El Astronauta

By Manuel Trotta | Drama
A man tries to fly to the moon to say goodbye to his late wife.

Beto has returned to the remote, desolate family home, where his father, Alfredo, lives alone. Alfredo has fallen into dementia, and Beto is taking him to a home in the city, where he can be cared for properly. Beto finds his home in disarray and his father further deep in the illusion that he must become an astronaut, so he can reach the moon to say goodbye to his late wife Elena, who is waiting for him there.

Beto -- modern, sophisticated and well-off -- is saddened by his dad's deteriorated state and can't understand why his father persists in his delusion. But by spending time together, Beto begins to reconnect to his past, his family and, most importantly, his father himself. And when he does, he realizes the perfect way to help his father say goodbye to his old home to move on to the next.

Written and directed by Manuel Trotta, who also co-stars as Beto, this beautifully affecting short family drama is about a changing of the guard between generations, where a grown child takes on the responsibility of caring for a parent. Shot with a natural, warm eye for both the wide striking landscape and the lyrical, telling detail, the writing and editing also balance the perspectives of the son and the father, entering into both experiences with empathy and sensitivity.

We see Beto's frustration, but we also see how deeply his father is lost in his own world. He isn't cut off from reality entirely -- Alfredo knows who his son is -- but he truly believes that he must find a way to go to the moon to say goodbye to his wife before he can go to his new home. It would be easy to make Alfredo into a "kook" or overplay the whimsicality of his fantasy, but one of the film's gifts is the dignity it gives to its characters. Alfredo's desire comes from a deep love for his wife, and the deepest feelings of grief and sadness that she is no longer with him.

The beauty of the storytelling allows for a quiet but perceptive shift, as Beto slowly comes to see his father as not an old man that needs to be taken care of, but a multi-dimensional human being. Trotta as an actor plays Beto with a quiet pragmatism, but with layers of pain and sadness to see his father so changed. As the father Alfredo, actor Luigi Sciamanna is compelling and committed, never overplaying Alfredo's dementia. Instead, he has an emotional lucidity on his most deeply held feelings, as well as insight into how different he and his son are. When Beto truly sees this and comes to respect his father, he accept his father and connect with him in the process.

The final movement of "El Astronauta" is built on this emotional shift, and is all the more moving and heartwarming for it. Beto honors his father's wishes, understanding they are what he needs to be able to move onto the next phase of his life with peace and acceptance. He recognizes his father isn't just an errand to take care of, but a person making a huge transition in life and saying goodbye to his home, his past and a major part of his life. Beto learns to enter into his father's world and speak his language, helping him travel forward into a future where they can both connect better.

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