Sydney Latin American Film Festival: The Dreamer

Scott Wallace
4th Sep 2016

If there's one thing that characterises the broad spectrum of Latin American film, it's the remarkable balance of style and substance. Peruvian film The Dreamer (original title El Soñador), which is screening as part of the Sydney Latin American Film Festival, is a perfect example of this. It is a small and quietly devastating film, but also beautiful in its inventiveness and narrative boldness.

The Dreamer tells the story of Sebastian (Gustavo Borjas) - nicknamed Chaplin by the group of petty criminals with whom he associates - a reserved and introverted young man who is repeatedly being snapped out of his reveries by his companions. Chaplin is an outlier, but a momentary act of violence in self defence finds him in the sights of Jaén (Eugenio Vidal), with whose sister Emilia (Elisa Tenaud) he has a slowly flourishing relationship.

The film is sparsely populated and intentionally quiet, reflecting the isolation and alienation felt by Chaplin, creating a kind of emotional dystopia seen almost entirely from his perspective. Stylised, colourful lighting and recurring visual motifs whisk the action between his reality, his dreams and his memories. Ultimately, the film is circular, akin to a Möbius strip, linking the harshness of modern-day Lima with an arid metaphysical landscape where it both begins and ends.

Like the best Latin American cinema, The Dreamer is morally complex, balancing a sense of entrapment and even coercion with tender hopefulness. The performance of Gustavo Borjas in the lead role is spectacular, especially given how soft spoken and gentle the character is. He presents the character like an open book, and it is easy to see why the independent but sensitive Emilia is drawn to him like a beacon.

The film is barely eighty minutes in length, but there is an enormous richness to it that makes it feel far more expansive than it actually is. Its powerful grip is astonishing as it transforms what is, on paper, a very simple story into something thematically rich and  emotionally powerful - at once a love story, a crime story, and a coming-of-age.

Amongst the diverse and multi-faceted program of this year's Sydney Latin American Film Festival, The Dreamer is sure to be a stand-out, but in its risk-taking storytelling and emotional and moral maturity, it will surely not stand alone. 

This year's Sydney Latin American Film Festival takes place at Dendy Opera Quays from September 8th to 12th. For more information and the full program, visit the SLAFF website. The Dreamer is screening at 7pm on Saturday September 10th.