Sexy rebel Emilia (Natalia Galgani) wears a Ramones T-shirt when she and Julio (Diego Noguera) first make love, while he's got a square of pale skin on his otherwise tanned chest from accidentally sunbathing with an open Proust novel.
In Chilean writer-director Cristián Jiménez's odd, wistful "Bonsái" this youthful romance steeped in clingy passion and literature read aloud is offset — in alternating segments — by events eight years later: Julio is now in a convenient fling with a neighbor, convincing her the handwritten novel he's secretly been working on about that lost love is the new book by a great author who's hired him to type it out.
The stunted, artfully designed show-plant of the title enters the story a little too conveniently as a metaphor for Julio's struggle to bring narrative shape to his own life (the film is based on a novel by Alejandro Zambra). But Jiménez's rendering of how remembered ardor stamps itself on our identity offers its own delicate display of human nature and artificial eccentricity.
Scenes of breezy intimacy mix well with deadpan comic moments, and Noguera's face is that rare male visage that seems boyishly opaque but over time suggests deep reserves of melancholy.
"Bonsai." No MPAA rating; in Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.