El Huaso
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El Huaso

Toronto certainly doesn't shine here, but this brutally honest family drama does.



Saturday, April 28, 3:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 29, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 5, 6:15 p.m.

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Seen through the lens of Gustavo Proto’s malaise, Toronto is an alienating, unattractive place. Whether driving down a slushy GTA highway trying to find an exit with increasing frustration, or contemplating the uniform greyness of Lake Ontario from his waterfront condo, Proto embodies the experience of living out one’s life in a place that will never feel like home.

Proto moved his family to Toronto from Chile in order to give them a better life. He opened a shipping company and found success, but evidently he never found happiness. When he was just 16 years old, his father killed himself, leaving Proto to identify the body. Now, facing a possible diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Proto toys with the idea of ending his own life. Carlo Proto, Gustavo’s son and the film’s director, takes on the delicate task of documenting his father’s pain, and his family’s anger, with remarkable aplomb.

Though Toronto doesn’t come off particularly well, the cinematography is breathtaking. Lake Ontario’s grey expanse, contrasting with the city’s lights and curving highways, perfectly illustrates the mental state of a man on the fringe–homesick, without friends, barely able to grapple with the mental illness that’s plagued him for years. “Nothing in life is as certain as death,” Gustavo says, and for him this is a blessing, a reprieve from the anxiety that haunts him. As a director, Carlo does an excellent job of letting his father be both the man brave enough to sacrifice himself in order to spare his family, and a fool unable to live beyond his misery.

In a pivotal scene in Chile, where Gustavo has gone to fulfill his dream of being a huaso (a Chilean cowboy), Carlo, who is in therapy for reasons that are perhaps obvious, confronts his father. It seems impossible that the film can end well. And yet, the beauty of this doc is that while it is brave enough to tackle tough emotional issues with ruthless honesty, it’s equally up to the task of sitting at a respectful distance from Gustavo, letting the complexity of his character, and situation, speak for itself.

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