Two children are woken in the middle of the night by their parents, who carry them, still half-asleep, to their family’s battered station wagon. They have been promised a trip to the beach; their young, charismatic father (Francisco Pérez-Bannen) is looking for a piece of land in northern Chile that he has inherited. But the father’s quest is perhaps more child-like than that of his children, confused as it seems with a naive hope for a fresh start. Their mother’s motives and expectations for going on the trip are less easy to decipher. Unfolding through the time that they spend together in the car and on the road, the Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor’s debut film, Thursday till Sunday, becomes a portrait of a marriage and family falling apart, seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Lucía (beautifully played by Santi Ahumada). Lucia captures that transition from childhood to adolescence, and the loss of innocence, as she gradually becomes aware that something is terribly wrong between her parents.
On the road, claustrophobic camerawork from inside the car is contrasted with the wide-open, arid and alien landscapes outside, emphasised by the luminescent, almost washed-out quality of Bárbara Álvarez’s cinematography. The vast distances the family travels are echoed in the gulf between the married couple, and it’s only as the film unravels that we slowly begin to pierce through the underlying tension. Like Lucía, we’re only offered glimpses of her parents, and hints and clues in the grown-up conversations that she struggles to understand. When the mother, Ana (Paola Giannini), encounters an old friend, a single father, at a camp site, it’s unclear if the meeting is spontaneous or contrived. The night-time scenes take place in virtual darkness, plunging the viewer straight into Lucía’s uncertainty and unease. When she hears voices in the shadows, the audience is as in the dark as she is. It’s sometimes maddening, but always effective. Finally, Sunday arrives, and with it, the disappointing realities of adulthood.
With Thursday till Sunday Sotomayor has crafted a compelling mix of road movie and coming-of-age story, using subtle tricks to involve the audience in the complexities and ambiguities of both marriage and childhood. Helped by some excellent performances, it is another striking film to emerge from South America.