Review: THE WANDERING SOAP OPERA Is An Amusing Exercise In Avant-Garde Filmmaking

FIRST IMPRESSION

Although it may not resonate outside of its home country, The Wandering Soap Opera is nonetheless an entertaining and ambitious Chilean satire.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

The Wandering Soap Opera is a new Chilean film that was shot by Raúl Ruiz in the 1990’s and was recently completed by Valeria Sarmiento. It is comprised of a series of telenovela-like vignettes that come together to provide a commentary on the meaning and structure of Chilean life. It has played at festivals including the 2017 Locarno Film Festival.

This is pure avant garde cinema, and like most experimental films, there are some things that work about it and some things that fall flat. There is no overarching narrative, but instead an overarching theme that drives the movie forward. Unfortunately, this is going to be the film’s downfall. The movie is so focused on Chilean society that its message is unlikely to connect with anyone outside of its home country (or at least Latin America).

Additionally, audiences may have a hard time connecting with the characters in the film. Obviously, there is the issue that is common in all ensemble-driven anthology films: you just don’t have enough screen time with the characters to form a legitimate connection. On top of that, the characters are already over-the-top and exaggerated archetypes. Because of this, it’s hard to see yourself in any of the characters.

That being said, most audiences will likely connect with the movie’s dark and satirical sense of humor. If you have watched any soap opera (particularly a telenovela) before, you are familiar with how absurd many of them are. This film lovingly plays on that characteristic, delivering some of the wackiest melodrama you will have ever seen. The funniest part of the movie involves a series of encounters at gunpoint.

Luis Alarcûn, Francisco Reyes, and Patricia Rivadeneira in The Wandering Soap Opera. Courtesy of Cinema Guild.

The film’s pacing does get to be somewhat exhausting at times as you jump from segment to segment. Every segment plays out similarly, starting out slowly until reaching a climax and sudden ending. This format is typical of soap operas. However, the movie doesn’t follow that same pattern overall, with the best segments being towards the beginning of the film. Had the best parts been more spread out, the movie would have benefitted.

The actors all do a good job in their roles. This is an ensemble piece comprised of short segments, so there isn’t really room for one particular person to stand out. That being said, all of the actors do a great job of capturing that signature soap opera vibe. They are able to be overly serious about the comedy, which makes it land even better.

On a technical level, the film was pretty solid. There is definitely a lot of ambition in the movie, both in the script and in the style in which it was executed, and it should be praised for that if nothing else. The use of televisions is particularly interesting, as it draws into question the perception of reality. Additionally, the score is quite good, doing a great job of creating the melodramatic tone.

Overall, The Wandering Soap Opera was a well-made film that definitely won’t be for everyone. It certainly isn’t like anything you will have seen before, though, so it is worth a shot if you are willing to go in with an open mind.

The Wandering Soap Opera opens in theaters on May 17.

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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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