‘Times were hard but they were modern’ runs the unattributed Italian proverb at the beginning of this vibrant debut feature from young Chilean writer-director Alicia Scherson, which provides a real tonic for jaded cinematic palates. Described by its creator as an ‘urban fairy tale’, the digitally shot Play examines two contrasting lives intersecting on the summer streets of Santiago.
Cristina (Viviana Herrera), a young woman of Indian descent from the countryside is an arcade video games enthusiast and a nurse for an elderly and ailing Hungarian man. One day she discovers a briefcase belonging to an architect, Tristan (Andres Ulloa), who’s undergoing various woes: he’s experiencing a painful relationship break-up from his wife, his cherished construction project is threatened by a strike, and now he’s been mugged. Donning his I-Pod and headphones, Cristina proceeds to follow this stranger’s wanderings.
Right from the credits sequence, in which names and titles appear on buildings and streets, Scherson proves to be an accomplished storyteller. She confidently handles temporal shifts and dream sequences, gradually fitting in the pieces to her jigsaw-puzzle narrative. The characters too are enjoyably idiosyncratic individuals, not just the melancholic Tristan, who’s ‘tired of thinking’ and the ever resilient Cristina, but also the former’s flamboyant blind mother and her magician lover. Moreover, beneath the visual stylisation and ironic humour, there lies a perceptive enquiry into identity and class, with Cristina’s lowly social status making her a seemingly invisible city-dweller. If you enjoyed Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, Play should strike a chord.