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Simon Read [Film Festival 11.24.09] Chile movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Andrés Waissbluth
Writers: Andrés Waissbluth & Nona Fernández & Cristián Jiménez & Marcelo Leonart
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Andrés Waissbluth's film centers on a group of depressed middle-class intellectuals living in Barcelona. Tomas works in publishing and his wife, Helena, is suffering after the recent death of her little brother Milo, who was swimming on holiday with his girlfriend Sandra when he drowned. After a posthumous postcard arrives from Milo, it throws Helena deeper into her funk, and it's only when Sandra arrives unannounced at their doorstep, that the couple begin to take stock of their lives, and look at what's making them so unhappy. A plethora of European art-house erotica follows, as a love triangle forms between these strange characters.

Jordi is one of Tomas' clients, an author whose book '199 Tips to Be Happy' is due to be published, although his preferred title was '200 Advices for a Satisfying Life'. It seems the marketing department have ditched the all-important Tip Number 200 (a simple blank page) and are giving the book a quirky feel that Jordi despises. He longs for a change and to escape Barcelona, where posters for his work dominate public spaces, giving examples of the tips he's thought-up ("Don't do what you love, love what you do"). One night he and Tomas get drunk together and complain bitterly about the whole affair, as Jordi puts it, "199 Tips to Be Happy? C'mon, what a bullshit title, like people are really that stupid!" Meanwhile Sandra and Helena bond over wine and cigarettes as Helena begins to admire Sandra's 'so-what' attitude to life and love, and tries to emulate her behaviour, cutting her hair short and starting work as an artists nude-model. Just as this change occurs, Tomas too becomes infatuated with the new arrival and stalks Sandra in a photographic montage of zoos, cinema complexes and city streets. As the line between Helena and Sandra begins to blur, Tomas finds his mental health deteriorating, and he attends interviews for new jobs in which he's grilled by the off-screen panel with weird questions about his views on life. Milo's ghost starts to haunt the group too, singing a song he wrote for Sandra before his death. The film soon delves into full-on surreal territory as Tomas books into a seedy hotel and mentally shifts the walls in his room, to reveal various sex acts in progress in the other rooms.

Waissbluth's previous film Los Debutantes, was billed as a 'Very sexy thriller', and 199 Tips is along the same lines, with a heavy emphasis on the characters sex lives, as motifs such as boiling kettles and inescapable fish tanks are used to signify the importance of the act. Sandra is the enigma, as a carefree nymph who brings some fresh-air to the dying relationship between Tomas and Helena, while lying and playing games with them. Jordi is an outsider to their world, brooding darkly about the failure of his book and dwindling cash supply. While Tomas is the everyman, trying to make sense of all the craziness around him and save his marriage, it's Helena who gives the film heart, grieving over the loss of her sibling and desperately clinging to Sandra as the last person to make love to him, and witness his death.

199 Tips to be Happy is a well structured drama, full of sex and relationships issues, surreal vignettes and heavy conversations. Best watched with wine, cigarettes and an open mind.

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