Jorge Riquelme Sorrano (director)
Network on Air (studio)
05 February 2018 (released)
05 February 2018
This slow-burning and deeply unsettling psychological chamber piece from Chile will divide opinions no doubt but even those offended by the film’s content will have to agree that the performances here are not only impressive but make for a memorable experience… which ever way you may look upon the movie.
CHAMELEON is the debut feature from writer/director Jorge Riquelme Sorrano and despite its single location (a magnificent beachfront summer home) and obvious low budget approach, this movie goes beyond your average psychological thriller fare by not only addressing sexual attitudes but also social inequalities and class conflict. Another unusual aspect is that the three main actors use their real names throughout the film.
Meet Paulina (Paulina Urrutria) and Paula (Paula Zúniga), a well-off lesbian couple in their thirties (well, this reviewer takes a guess here) who are spending a final day together at their beachfront house in Santo Domingo. To say that the women are particularly attractive would be a lie, however, they are clearly popular as the previous night a party took place and judging by the mess in the house it must have been a good one. While Paula starts to clear up, ‘Pauli’ already looks forward to her move to London – as we find out a little later she is obsessed with beauty, beautiful things, and reckons that job prospects in London are much better than in Chile. Paula seems rather passive about the situation and doesn’t mind being teasingly bossed about by Pauli – when the couple get cosy in the garden it transpires that Paula seems particularly fond of wine and keeps downing the glasses despite it being early morning. Soon she will be having even more wine, for the doorbell rings and Gastón (Gastón Salgado) appears, a handsome looking young man who was among the party guests. In fact, the elderly and gay Franco (Alejandro Goic) brought Gastón along to the party during which a few glasses must have broken.
Now Gastón holds up a new pair of glasses, together with a bottle of wine, and an apparent apology from Franco. Although Pauli and Paula had intended on spending their last day together without interruptions they invite Gastón into the house for a drink, if only not to appear rude. During the rather awkward conversation and chat in the garden it becomes clear that the two women look upon Gastón as a second-class citizen (“He’s brown” Pauli remarks, referring to his darker skin tone) and don’t believe him when he claims he works in advertising. Nonetheless they play along with him and when asked why he wears Franco’s shirt, they don’t seem to question his reply that he got the shirt as a present. As the conversation goes on and Gastón remarks that he’s never been in such a grand house before, Paula gets drunker and drunker. In the process she provokes Pauli and her attitude towards their relationship. Finally Paula is so drunk she needs to be carried into the bedroom to sleep it all off. It is then that Pauli throws a subtle hint at Gastón that perhaps it might be the right time to leave. Only that he doesn’t… he pretends he does but when Pauli walks downstairs to look for her missing phone, Gastòn suddenly appears from a corner and makes her semi-unconscious by holding a cloth dipped in what appears to be chloroform against her face. He then carries the semi-unconscious woman upstairs who looks on as the intruder violently begins to rape the drunk Paula. Mid-way the scenario is interspersed by a flashback scene in which we see how Gastón murdered Franco after the party and we know we not only have a rapist but a psychotic killer at large. Paula’s rape is only the beginning of the terror that is about to be unleashed and it is the shocking twist towards the end that will divide audiences – to reveal any more would be spoiling the broth.
It is a film which leaves a very uncomfortable aftertaste though of course that is its intend – perhaps in a poor country like Chile the aftertaste is even more bitter. Psychotic and sadistic as he is, Gastón only seems to target the well-off – perhaps some act of revenge because they have the luxurious life he would like to have but never did and never will… Of course, the other question which arises is whether Gastón only targets wealthy gays and lesbians - but it is a question which remains unanswered.
Both Paulina Urrutria and Paula Zúniga are utterly compelling and oh so natural in what cannot be an easy part but actually this is Gastón Salgado’s film. He is chameleon personified – charming and funny one minute and utterly creepy and brutal the next.
CHAMELEON is certainly not your average psychological drama yet all the more reason to watch it – 11 nominations at the 2017 Pedro Sienna Chilean film awards cannot be ignored neither can the film’s three winners: Jorge Riquelme Sorrano (Best Director), Paulina Urrutria (Best Leading Actress), and Carlos Cabezas (Best Original Music).