TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Bolivian filmmaker Martín Boulocq returns to the director’s chair with The Visitor, a quietly scathing reflection on fractured familial bonds and the influence of religion. The road to redemption is no easy feat in the filmmaker’s visually and thematically rich drama, which moves at a markedly measured pace.
Set in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the film follows ex-convict Humberto (Enrique Aráoz), who makes a living as a singer at wakes. Humberto makes the trip home to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Aleida (Svet Mena). But this proves more difficult as his disapproving in-laws, Carlos (César Troncoso) and Elizabeth (Mirella Pascual), who have been raising Aleida, are protective.
Carlos is a wealthy Argentinian pastor with deep ties to the Evangelical community. As such, he’s raising Aleida in the same community, much to Humberto’s dismay. Carlos ultimately allows him to see Aleida on occasion. Humberto begins attending church to remain on Carlos’ good side while he can acquire enough money to liberate his daughter from the pair’s domineering grasp.
The Visitor opens with a long shot of Humberto walking on the street hauling a suitcase, indicating that he’s on the move from a past he’s trying to forget. However, a friend tells him that society will always judge him for being an ex-convict. Nonetheless, Humberto does what he can to show the court that he’s capable of providing for his daughter. In addition to being a family drama, the film also operates as a commentary on class. Carlos is upper-class, whereas Humberto was raised and continues to live as lower-class. But should child custody be decided solely by the opportunities a caregiver can provide? Boulocq and co-writer Rodrigo Hasbun have no clear-cut answer, lacing their script with many different shades of perfidy implemented by Humberto and Carlos’ hands, which works in the film’s favor.
“Humberto makes the trip home to reconnect with his estranged daughter…”
Carlos is an intimidating man with religion on his side. In one particular scene, Carlos utilizes his power as a pastor to humiliate Humberto in front of the entire congregation; it is brilliantly executed. An argument never erupts between the two. Instead, Humberto stares daggers at Carlos, who goes on to talk about seeking God’s forgiveness in a pompous manner. This moment is genuinely unnerving.
Humberto is reserved and broken, yet optimistic that he can be the father that Aleida deserves. His disdain for Carlos and Elizabeth is only ever shown through sly leers. Still, The Visitor is rife with a palpable tension between him and the in-laws that captivates. Newcomer Enrique Aráoz brings so much visibly stifled rage and desperation to the character, helping to show Humberto in a sympathetic, albeit unflattering light. That’s not to say Carlos and Elizabeth are better caregivers. The final scene conveys how families impose religion on loved ones, and sadly, sometimes, there’s nothing one can do but go along with it at the moment.
Cinematographer German Nocella and editor Irene Cajias construct a slow-burn snapshot of an everyman and his place in a world dominated by religion and money. The camera movements and cuts are graceful and are employed with the intent to show how Humberto’s life is slightly off-balance. He has no time to catch his breath because he’s trying to win custody of Aleida, and he doesn’t always make the best decisions. The most visually compelling shot is one of Humberto and his daughter sitting side by side as they take in the breathtaking view of the city. If only things could always be this beautiful and unmoving. But Boulocq knows better and refrains from engendering unnecessary conflict while simultaneously not resolving broken bonds with a conveniently enlightening conversation between foes. But because of this, the ending, by intentional or unintentional means, is underwhelming and incomplete.
The Visitor is a pensive and mournful tale of confronting yourself and the past, as well as the expectations put forth by society, religion, and family.
The Visitor screened at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…rife with a palpable tension..."