My college-level knowledge of Spanish was clearly not going to get me far with Gatos Viejos—Old Cats. But during the film, I was so taken that at moments I forgot I was reading the English translations on the bottom of the screen. For those of you who don’t know, Chileans speak fast. Really fast. It also seemed to slip my mind that I was watching actors, what with their relationship to the uncomplicated plot, the simple cinematic conventions, the pure realism. The characters truly came alive for me. Most likely this blur of reality occurred because I couldn’t easily pick up on obvious acting techniques. Diction, tone and syntax flew out the window for the most part. I could pick up attitude and emotion, sort of, through body language, but that was really the only element not lost in translation.
The film, directed by Sebastian Silva and Pedro Peirano, tells the tale of an elderly woman battling senility in Santiago, Chile. Isidora (Belgica Castro) is pictured saying things, often arbitrarily, that make very little sense. She forgets tasks and activities that she’s in the midst of, and, in a frightful event, wanders alone into a public park. We first sympathize with her condition, but her money-hungry daughter surprisingly reveals a different side of her senile mother.
There is a palpable tension between Isidora and her daughter, Rosario (Claudia Celedon), from the start of the film. It is clear that Rosario is after her mother’s money, by means of acquiring her apartment. Unappealing in her fast-talking, coke-sniffing, condescending and argumentative ways, Rosario blames her mother for never having loved her, implying that her mother is partially to blame for her life’s circumstance and childish obsession with wealth. My attitude toward Isidora shifted here; I saw her in a pitiful, worrisome light before, and now I was suspicious about her inherent responsibility in her daughter’s misery and dysfunction. Isidora holds her own for a while and refuses to sign over the apartment, but as the film progresses, so does her senility. She manages to descend several flights ending up in a public fountain, soaked from head to toe. Rosario comes to her rescue and the tension is dissolved, as if the water somehow washed their relationship clean.
Though there were still lingering arguments, I was left with a strong sense of resolve, knowing Isidora and Rosario were at least capable of showing affection, an act clearly outside both of their personal comfort zones. Rosario’s instinctual jump into the fountain is a moving testament to the mother-daughter bond, despite the treachery that can come with the dynamic.