An eccentric Spanish family retreats to their beach house outside Barcelona to make final arrangements for the matriarch presumed dead after a boat accident in Guatemala.
“Me, Isabel, dead? Not a chance,” declares the feisty, clear-eyed, 69-year-old on page one. An influential anthropologist specializing in the funeral rites of indigenous people, she was on a solo trip to a remote river in Central America when a European nurse she met in passing was killed in a river accident. The woman’s disfigured body was misidentified as that of Isabel, who for a number of reasons decides to stay out of sight for a little while, writing down her thoughts in a journal. Her distraught family, meanwhile, grieves for her while facing their own various issues as they make plans to dispose of “Isabel’s” ashes near the ruggedly beautiful town of Malespina. Her husband, Julio, suffers from a Parkinson’s-like ailment and needs constant care. Eldest son Alberto is a successful, four-times divorced lawyer stressed by financial and personal responsibilities. Middle son Pablo is a gifted composer who never lived up to his early promise. Youngest child Serena, a meteorologist, finds herself pregnant at age 38 by a 24-year-old colleague. Serena’s written account forms a counterpart to her mother’s diary, and the two texts slowly knit together a convoluted tale of origins beginning with the legend of Julio’s father, Simón, a shipwreck survivor who may never have existed. Layer after layer of family lore are peeled away in the competing narratives, interspersed with tangential tales from Isabel’s work with native tribes and Serena’s research on maritime weather patterns. It all makes for an original, though sometimes confusing, take on the nature of storytelling, truth and familial bonds. An award-winning release in de Hériz’s native Spain, his American debut is blessed with fully fashioned characters who manage to be satisfyingly exasperating and complex.
Evocative exploration of how deception can destroy—or redeem—a family.