Review: Wandering Heart (Leonardo Brzezicki)

“A compassionate and poignant immersion into the lives of these characters as they voyage through the world, unearthing its secrets and embracing its unconventional nature.”

While it would appear that he is relatively comfortable, Santiago is gradually falling apart, teetering dangerously close to a crisis of identity, which comes from his inability to commit to his desires, despite being driven by them – whether trying to honour his duties as a father to his teenage daughter, live up to the standard set by his discerning mother or lamenting over lovers that he believed had exited his life, but have returned, causing him to spiral into a state of confusion and unease. This is the foundation on which Leonardo Brzezicki constructs Wandering Heart (Errante corazón), his extraordinarily beautiful and blisteringly funny character study that serves as a thorough examination of someone trying to find their place in the world but struggling to make some important decisions that would allow them to get to that particular point, both physically and emotionally. A film that takes a profoundly loose and libertine approach to exploring the shifting identities of a middle-aged man experiencing the insecurity and bewilderment usually reserved for those in their adolescent years, Wandering Heart is a tremendously charming and thought-provoking work. With a story that is steeped heavily in social realism, but which does not avoid expressing a more enchanting depiction of humanity where it matters, Brzezicki continues to highlight his status as one of the most exciting directors working in contemporary South American cinema, and a storyteller with a remarkable penchant for capturing the smallest intricacies of the human condition.

Identity has always fascinated and provoked artists, since there is an abundance of potential in taking a simple self-reflective story of someone looking inward and pondering their own place in the world, and we have all felt those existential curiosities on occasion. Wandering Heart is built squarely on the concept of examining the experiences of someone who has grown complacent in the ambiguities of his existence – when we first encounter Santiago, he is comfortable as a man just gliding through life with a sheltered social and economic status, and who could afford a few moments of recklessness, since there was always some security to his everyday life. However, after some time, this baseless, middle-class malaise begins to catch up with him, leading to the events that serve as the catalyst for the film, in which he goes in search of some deeper meaning. The film is effective in how it doesn’t condense the protagonist to just a single persona, but instead views him as someone whose entire existence is based around intersecting identities. He is a companion to his love interests in the same way that he is a father to his daughter, and the son of a mother who questions his path in life – and it is through coming to terms with his own identity that he manages to navigate the obstacles presented to him. The film eventually reveals itself to be as much a discussion on family (particularly in the relationship between the main character and his daughter, which is the central motif of the film) as it is a story of queerness, which all ultimately works together to create this profound portrait of a man seeking out answers to some of the more challenging questions he encounters in his daily life.

As we would expect from any character-based drama, Wandering Heart depends almost entirely on the central performance, the entire success of the film hinging on whether the viewer can relate to the protagonist, or identify with him, even if only partially. Casting an actor like Leonardo Sbaraglia was a smart decision, as he has proven himself capable of immense diversity in the roles he is able to play, as well as being established on both a local and interactional level to give the film as a whole a sense of credibility. His performance in this film is remarkable, since he captures both the reckless joy and deep sadness that underpin the character of Santiago in such vivid detail. So much of what he does in this film depends on his ability to convey a plethora of emotions through just his expressions and movements, with a lot of the performance being quiet (although he is able to handle the occasional moments of more dense dialogue just as well), which adds layers of intentional ambiguity to his portrayal of this character. There is an ease with which Sbaraglia navigates this film, which may seem quite straightforward at a cursory glance, but does contain some challenging subject matter. It is not an easy role, since the actor needs to embrace some of the more unconventional choices made in the construction of the character, and has to be thoroughly open to emotional vulnerability, which is the primary propellant for the development of the film as a whole. Perhaps calling his performance brave is outdated (as we have moved past the point where heterosexual actors playing gay characters warrant acclaim based on their supposed fearlessness in adopting this identity), but Sbaraglia nonetheless manages to be extremely impressive, especially in how he takes command of the character and everything that he represents.

An upbeat comedy with a sombre edge, Wandering Heart is a film built around the poetry of small moments. It smartly avoids being too didactic about the various struggles that this character has to endure while navigating his identity. Instead, it provokes thought and conversation by introducing a range of new ideas to a story that seems relatively simple at the start but begins to accumulate more meaning the further we venture inwards and discover the secrets lurking just beneath the surface. It starts and ends as a celebration of queer identity, with the centrepiece of the film essentially being the process of watching this man undergo a shift in his perspective. Santiago’s identity as a whole remains unchanged – there are no epiphanies or revelatory moments where he suddenly makes some enormous realization that prompts a shift in his life. Instead, he just grows more comfortable in his existing identity, becoming more self-assured and open to the possibilities for the future. What he previously viewed as obstacles instead become opportunities, which creates a new path forward for the character. A film that consists of both stunning visual compositions (with the simple but gorgeous imagery painting a vivid portrait of this contemporary urban landscape navigated by the character) and a striking story that uses a gentle and natural approach to explore the theme of identity in its various forms, Wandering Heart is a true triumph. It seeks to observe humanity rather than critique it, and the film doesn’t imply that major change is necessary, or make any bold proclamations about these characters. Instead, it is a compassionate and poignant immersion into the lives of these characters as they voyage through the world, unearthing its secrets and embracing its unconventional nature.