CORONATION (Silvio Caiozzi, 2000)

Although it could be described as novelistic, the most honored film from Chile ever, writer-director Silvio Caiozzi’s updated version of José Donoso’s 1957 novel Coronación, has much more to do with mood, ambience and visual presentation than it has to do with plot, which approaches minimalism. Dark and decadent, this voluptuous film, set in Santiago, is an orchestration of themes: desperation attending the social and mental decline of two aristocratic members, fiftyish bachelor Andrés Ábalos and his grandmother, Elisa, who is in her nineties and suffers from dementia and class delusions; across class, the widespread provision of bad counsel; the corruption of innocence.
     Symbolically distancing himself from family history, Andrés (Julio Jung, repressed, explosive—several best actor prizes) hires Estela, servant Lourdes’s 17-year-old country niece, to look after Elisa (María Cánepa—best actress and supporting actress prizes, including from Chilean critics); spying on her, he becomes infatuated and jealous over her love affair with young Mario. Surely the “main character,” though, is Elisa’s underlit mansion, where a plethora of closeups of the people who live, work or visit suggests they all must bring to bear their own inner lights. Little daylight filters in; but, ironically, when it comes through a window into Elisa’s room, she imagines outdoors a long-ago scene from her romantic past. In the present, she can be a horror, castigating Estela for being “dirty” because of the lower class girl’s dark, native skin.
     Each character differently interacts with others, according to different age, gender and class codes and rules—and, sometimes, according to alcohol consumption! Bizarre, wonderful passage: Elisa’s medical doctor’s bald efforts to confront Andrés’s faded status and wealth with his own professionally earned automobile and house.
     Here and there, Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961) echoes in.
     Numerous best film, best direction prizes.

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