It goes without saying that Nuestra América is a place of infinite diversity. From climates to languages, music and food, there is so much more richness to Latin American culture than stereotypical constructions of the salsa-dancing Latino would suggest. Then there are the meals. Yes, the meals. In Mexico and some parts of the Caribbean, lunch is the main meal of the day. In Chile, it turns out they don’t even eat dinner. No, instead our brothers and sisters from the end of the world take part in something called la once, an evening ritual comparable to English teatime, complete with bread, marmalade, sweet pastries and tea. To most, it may sound more like breakfast than dinner, but that’s just how they get down in the land of Pablo Neruda.
Now imagine that instead of getting together everyday for a live studio audience, the cast of The View got together once a month to tomar la once – and they did it every month for 60 years. Pretty heavy, huh? That’s more or less the premise of director Maite Alberdi’s latest documentary La Once (Tea Time), which recently picked up prizes for Best Documentary at the Guadalajara, Miami, and Cartagena Film Festivals. And as my extremely reductive comparison suggests, the film sits in on the monthly ritual of a group of upper-class Chilean women who have lived through a series of radical social and personal shifts over the years, yet continue to come together to gossip as if they were still young students at the parochial school where they first met 60 years prior.
Without a doubt, it’s always amusing to watch our elders bicker and gossip, which gives La Once a built in “awww” factor, but the synopsis suggests Alberti is after something deeper, playing on connections between the personal and the political to talk about a country in constant flux, the emotional and physical scars dealt by life, and possibly even the omnipresent specter of death. Whatever her intention, Alberti seems to have touched on something profound enough to pick up awards at three of Latin American cinema’s most prestigious festivals in a matter of weeks.
The trailer gives a sense of La Once’s cute old lady humor, letting the camera run deadpan as her subjects bicker and banter with a striking mix of cordiality and intimate familiarity. Visually, criss-crossed cameras give each character her due time, while close-ups of steeping tea, fine china, and delicately elaborated pastries gives a sense of the peculiar ritual behind la once in an impressively dynamic visual treatment of an otherwise static situation.
Even if your abuela’s not a well-healed Chilean woman, there is something universal about la tercera edad that just kinda gets your heart all warm and fuzzy. Evidently, festival judges across the world seem to agree.