Bonsai – The Movie of Alejandro Zambra’s Novel – A Review

While I thought Bonsai was well written and showed some inventiveness, I thought it was a little juvenile at times. Still I was curious how such a literary novel would be turned into a movie, especially all the references to writing and reading. I’ve long since gotten over the truism that the book and the movie are never the same. What interests me is what decisions they have made. As far as the literary content goes, they handled it quite nicely. The running joke about the main character writing a novel that he is really supposed to be transcribing is in some ways a little more interesting because it is subtle. Where as the narrator has to explain it in the novel, the film just shows it. It is one of those advantages that film can occasionally have. The real plus of the film, though, was it did not seem as juvenile as the book. The change in narrative perspective is most likely what created that feeling. The film it self is serious, the incidents are comic, whereas the narration of the novel is light and jokey. One is certainly not better than the other; they are their own things. The novel is certainly more revolutionary; the film is fairly straight forward. As literary movies go, though, it is one of the better ones. The film makers didn’t try to create a metaphor for the creation of writing, something that is usually tedious. Rather writing is just something one does and reading is something one enjoys. Moreover, they were able to use the same jokes from the book to show the two lovers injecting literature into their lives and constructing literary significances to even the smallest things. That sense of the primacy of literature in the book is stronger because in the movie the characters, almost comically, are often going to puny parties at the college that makes all their pretensions seem funny. So although Bonsai the movie is not Bonsai the book, as adaptations go, it is one of the better ones.

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