Dominga Sotomayor Castillo has been collecting accolades for her directorial debut Thursday Till Sunday. Her young female lead – 11 year old Santi Ahumada – has also been earning her fair share of praise for her innocent performance.
However, I regret to inform Castillo and Ahumada that they won’t be earning any applause on the Wylie Writes front because Castillo’s filmmaking has serious issues and Ahumada’s performance – following similar footsteps as last year’s Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis – is cute but luckily effortless considering her inexperience as an actress, making it hard to reward her.
When watching Thursday Till Sunday, I was reminded often of Igor Drljaca’s directorial debut Krivina, a small film that played at last year’s TIFF and earlier this year during a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it run at Toronto’s Royal theatre. Both films are minimalist endeavours and move at an unbearable speed. However, Drljaca was able to halfway support his choice for moving the film at such a slow pace with a compelling, game changing twist.
Castillo has her film take place during a monotonous family road trip with a large chunk of her story taking place inside a station wagon as it passes washed out scenery. The comparison to Wallis’ portrayal as the energetic Hushpuppy in the crowd pleasing Beasts of the Southern Wild is even more apparent as we see what this lifeless road trip is like through a child’s eyes.
The vehicle stops periodically, the family gets out to look around, and then they get back into their station wagon and cruise along the empty roads. It isn’t a very exciting trip to an adult, so imagine how that’s going to look through a youngster’s point-of-view. Castillo wants her audience to settle in the authenticity of “the typical family road trip” – which I suppose she does well since there’s plenty of boredom to go around. But, she forgets about her audience and the difference between interesting everyday details and what’s useless time filler.
Some of the scenes take place in unedited takes, which allows Castillo to grab every single realistic moment during mundane activities. Again, she succeeds, but how much enjoyment does the audience get out of watching Dad detailedly pack up the family car? How about twice? The only possible way the writer/director could’ve gotten away with these slices of life is if she at least cut to other angles.
The film is trying to say something about the slow descent of a once happy family. Ahumada’s Lucía occasionally sees her parents argue in the distance or exchange frustrated looks whilst on their vacation. However, these situations are set up with Castillo never saying anything sufficiently sustainable about crumbling marriages or the effect these rough spots have on their onlooking, observant children. These confrontations just – kind of – happen while Lucía stares with a blank look.
Santi Ahumada may capture the naïvety of her older sister role, but that’s mainly because the role doesn’t call for much other than for Ahumada to act her age. I would’ve appreciated if Castillo added more personality to Lucía and walked her through the role, allowing the newbie to create more of an on-screen presence. It would’ve definitely made her stand out more and separated her from any other child actor that could’ve played this role.
But, the feather-light Thursday Till Sunday does stand out in some way. Out of all the films I’ve seen in 2013 so far, Thursday Till Sunday is that one movie I had the hardest time staying tuned in to. I try my hardest not to check my watch during a movie, but I was consistently doing that during Castillo’s supremely slow and dull debut.
At least with a real life road trip, you could at least stop off at a McDonalds for a large Coke and have a quick nap in the parking lot. Thursday Till Sunday only delivers on the nap.