Return To The End


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Return To The End
"Letelier’s film has a haunting quality that will definitely make you want to reach out and give someone a hug."

Most films since the start of the Covid pandemic have avoided referencing masks and lockdowns directly but Return To The End (Regresar Al Final) is based largely within it, not only looking back at its advent but into the near-future, in which the situation appears to have worsened again. Chilean director Gustavo Letelier observes it through the prism of an extended family, who we chiefly see interacting via video calls and whose lives will change irrevocably over the course of the film.

Beginning before Covid takes hold, there’s a sense of distance even during communication as we see Ximena (Francisca Reiss) and her sister Mercedes (Paula Leoncini) having a conversation over speaker phone from their respective houses. Listening in, from outside, is Ximena’s son Esteban (Mario Olivares), and this sense of him being physically external to what is going on is heightened by the lack of his mother’s direct interaction with him as she leaves the house one fateful day - he could almost be a ghost but it is she who will be lost. This is just one facet of Letelier’s film, which arrives in fragments, taking shape and gradually gaining emotional weight.

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Grief fractures the family even before the start of the pandemic, although we see hopefulness is offered by Daniel (Daniel Contesse), Esteban’s new love, as they horse about in a swimming pool just weeks into a relationship which will soon become long-distance as Daniel returns to New York to be close to his parents. Esteban’s family are the polar opposite, with his lecturer father Fernando (Ricardo Herrera) estranged and living what seems to be an isolated existence from his son. Esteban seems to have also cut himself off from his sister Javiera (Paula Edwards), who also finds herself coping with her kids alone as her husband Guillermo (Benjamin Gorroño) works away from home.

Much of the action plays out over Zoom - not only as a plot driver but a direct consequence of the pandemic that saw the actors confined during lockdown - as the relationships ebb and flow, coming into particular focus on the day of Fernando’s 65th birthday when Mercedes is determined to get the family together, at least virtually. Letelier’s melancholic film shows how, even in isolation, physical things can provide solace, from Javiera’s piano to Esteban’s guitar, which we often see him playing absentmindedly to an unexpected delivery for Fernando.

The relationship between Esteban and Daniel is touching and Letelier makes sharp observations about the ways humans can interact, for example, the way that Daniel addresses himself to a phone camera rather than directly to Esteban even though he is sitting across the table from him. Letelier highlights the fact that talking does not always mean communicating, while blank screens, offering up nothing but the reflection of the caller, are also used to poignant effect. Sometimes the use of the calls is more jarring, however, such as one occasion when both speakers appear sideways on, which feels unlikely. Revelations towards the end of the film also come rather too thick and fast to be fully explored, particularly the sudden arrival of a subplot for Javiera and Guillermo. Despite this Letelier’s film has a haunting quality that will definitely make you want to reach out and give someone a hug.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2022
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Love is at a crossroads for a family in the pandemic.

Director: Gustavo Letelier

Writer: Gustavo Letelier

Starring: Mario Olivares, Daniel Contesse, Paula Edwards, Benjamin Gorroño, Ricardo Herrera, Paula Leoncini, Francisca Reiss

Year: 2022

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Chile


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