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SHORT FOCUS 2019: August Sun [Franco Volpi, Argentina, 2018]

August Sun stars Miguel Di Lemme as Javier, an Argentine expat living in Vienna, who has inversely become a parent to his ageing and ailing mother, Miriam. Examining the mounting tensions as one person is stretched between their own life and their family, Franco Volpi’s film is a sensitive yet scorching critique of the inhumane bureaucracies that so often govern human lives.

The story follows Javier in Buenos Aires, as he tries to obtain his mother’s medication from a health insurance company that he is also suing. As any recent Ken Loach fan may expect, the process is excruciating and tragic. What stands out most is the complete lack of human connection from each person they go to for help: the doctor absent-mindedly asks his mother how she is while staring at a computer screen; Miriam’s wellbeing is bestowed or denied by a rubber stamp, and Javier reprimands the staff for addressing him so impersonally - “Don’t call me ‘sir’. You’ve seen me coming here for three months. You know exactly who I am.”

This bureaucratic coldness is counteracted by the ‘human’ imperfections of the characters. Miriam’s penchant for ice cream sundaes and her insistence on going to the bathroom as Javier argues with the insurers is a reminder of the living, breathing human bodies that the stamps and authorised papers affect. Javier interrupts his lawyer’s thoughtful silence with, “you’ve got a bit of meringue on your jacket.” When the lawyer proceeds to eat it in a slight moment of comic relief, we are reminded that we are never dealing with slick mechanisations of faceless corporations, but always with people.

August Sun achieves what many short filmmakers try and fail to do: high emotional impact. More often than not, the plot or the characters lack sufficient development for the story to be truly moving. However, Volpi’s tight script makes this film a success. The dialogues between characters manage to convey feeling without being too hammy. Miriam’s soft request that Javier stay in Buenos Aires feels far more real than a dramatic showdown. Similarly, the final touch in the last scene is a masterclass on portraying a vast range of emotions in a single moment. The strength of the script is augmented by excellent acting. Di Lemme gives a fantastic performance, conveying the difficulty of his situation with a sense of constant tension. But it is Silvina Sabater who really shines in her role as the formidable and yet heartbreakingly vulnerable Miriam.

The sensitivity and subtlety of both the acting and the script come together to achieve that hard-hitting emotional heft that eludes so many shorts. Somewhat paradoxically, Volpi’s precision and restraint allows the film to cover a huge range of topics such as changing family relationships, guilt and grief. It comes as no surprise that this film was the biggest winner at 2019’s edition of Short Focus Film Festival.


'August Sun' was the winner of the Golden Frame and an Audience Award at Short Focus Film Festival 2019, and is available to watch now on FLTV.

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