TRIBECA FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Bolivian filmmaker Martín Boulocq returns to the director’s chair with The visitor, a quietly scathing reflection on fractured family ties and the influence of religion. The path to redemption is no small feat in the filmmaker’s visually and thematically rich drama, which moves at a distinctly measured pace.
Set in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the film follows ex-convict Humberto (Enrique Aráoz), who makes a living as a singer at wakes. Humberto returns home to reconnect with his daughter, Aleida (Svet Mena). But it proves more difficult because her disapproving in-laws, Carlos (César Troncoso) and Elizabeth (Mirella Pascual), who raised Aleida, are protective.
Carlos is a wealthy Argentine pastor with deep ties to the evangelical community. As such, he raises Aleida in the same community, much to Humberto’s dismay. Carlos eventually allows her to see Aleida on occasion. Humberto begins attending church to stay on Carlos’ good side while he can acquire enough money to free his daughter from the couple’s dominating grip.
The visitor opens with a long shot of Humberto walking down the street pulling a suitcase, indicating that he is letting go of a past he is trying to forget. However, a friend tells him that society will always judge him as an ex-con. Nevertheless, Humberto does what he can to show the court that he is capable of providing for his daughter. Besides being a family drama, the film also functions as a commentary on class. Carlos is upper class, while Humberto was raised and continues to live in the lower class. But should childcare be decided solely by the opportunities a caregiver can provide? Boulocq and co-screenwriter Rodrigo Hasbun don’t have a clear answer, tying their screenplay to many shades of treachery implemented by the hands of Humberto and Carlos, which works in the film’s favor.
“Humberto returns home reconnect with estranged daughter…”
Carlos is an intimidating man with religion on his side. In one particular scene, Carlos uses his pastor power to humiliate Humberto in front of the entire congregation; it is brilliantly executed. An argument never breaks out between the two. Instead, Humberto glares at Carlos with daggers, who goes on to talk about asking God for forgiveness in a pompous way. This moment is truly moving.
Humberto is reserved and broken, but optimistic that he can be the father Aleida deserves. His disdain for Carlos and Elizabeth is never shown except by sly looks. Still, The visitor is plagued by palpable tension between him and the captivating in-laws. Newcomer Enrique Aráoz brings so much visibly suppressed rage and desperation to the character, helping to show Humberto in a sympathetic, if unflattering, light. That’s not to say Carlos and Elizabeth are better caregivers. The final scene shows how families impose religion on their loved ones and unfortunately sometimes there is nothing you can do but accept it for the time being.
Cinematographer German Nocella and editor Irene Cajias construct a slow-burning snapshot of an ordinary man and his place in a world dominated by religion and money. The camera movements and cuts are graceful and are used in an effort to show just how slightly off balance Humberto’s life is. He doesn’t have time to catch his breath as he tries to get custody of Aleida, and he doesn’t always make the best decisions. The most visually compelling shot is of Humberto and his daughter sitting side by side as they take in the sweeping views of the city. If only things could always be this beautiful and still. But Boulocq knows better and refrains from stirring up unnecessary conflict while not resolving broken ties with a conveniently illuminating conversation between enemies. But because of that, the ending, by intentional means or not, is disappointing and incomplete.
The visitor is a pensive and mournful tale of confrontation with self and the past, as well as the expectations set forth by society, religion and family.
The visitor screened at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.