August Sun

By Franco Volpi | Drama
A man is torn between his bipolar mother and his life abroad.

Javier has spent the last three months in his hometown of Buenos Aires, where he has been caring for his mentally-ill mother Miriam. But he’s anxious to get back to his girlfriend and his job in Europe.

But navigating the bureaucracy of his mother’s healthcare is a slow and frustrating process, and he’s suing his mother’s insurance provider for not covering the costs of Miriam’s assisted-living home. Miriam, too, is aware that Javier has given up a lot to come to Buenos Aires to care for her.

Caught in a limbo between his loyalty and obligation to his mother and the life he has left behind in Vienna, Javier finds himself wrestling with complicated emotions, made even more difficult because of the bureaucratic hurdles he faces.

Writer-director Franco Volpi’s palpably affecting and empathetic drama concerns the difficult internal tug-of-war when the roles between parents and child change. Taking a subtle, understated approach to the emotions and refusing an easy sense of catharsis, it nevertheless achieves a powerful resonance in its recognition of an emotional complexity with no easy answers, and its depiction of the unspoken intimacies of family relationships, and the way that closeness both compels and stifles.

A sense of naturalism pervades the film at all levels, from the studied yet muted camerawork to the way the writing nestles quotidian details within moments of tension. There’s also a dry, almost absurdist sense of humor as well, along with a sharp eye for the way an impersonal governmental or corporate policy can ripple into the most personal of situations, creating seismic disturbances in the people they affect. Having to get a new prescription from the doctor with a proper date seems like no problem to company bureaucrats, but waiting a week to see a doctor for vital medication is potential agony for both Miriam and Javier.

The heart of the film is found in the mother-son relationship depicted in the story and brought to life by actors Miguel Di Lemma and Silvina Sabater. Neither performer erupts into histrionics or makes grand speeches, but their work is precise, subtle and deeply affecting. Javier’s exhaustion can edge into resentment, but it’s entirely understandable. Meanwhile, Miriam has a heartbreaking, helpless self-awareness of her illness and its impact on her family. Yet all the sadness is borne out of a deep core of love — one that arises from a tiny yet tender moment at the film’s end.

The touching ending of “August Sun” is a perfect grace note and a fitting emblem for a film remarkable for its blend of social awareness, emotional realism and compassionate honesty. (It is also, sadly, all too relatable for many navigating complex healthcare systems around the world.) There are no easy feelings here, and no solutions — just a constant, steady recognition that all we can do is our best during such difficult situations.

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