Vassilis Kroustallis reviews the Chilean feature My Brothers Dream Awake (Mis Hermanos Sueñan Despiertos) by Claudia Huaiquimilla.

Based on a real 2007 incident, in which 10 boys died in the Puerto Montt state prison in Chile, Claudia Huaiquimilla’s sophomore feature My Brothers Dream Awake (Mis Hermanos Sueñan Despiertos) dramatizes with passion (but uneven consistency) the story. It focues on the two brothers, Ángel, 17 (Iván Cáceres) who is about to be imprisoned for a year in a juvenile prison with his 14-year-old brother Franco (or Flea).

Early promises of a trial are soon to vanish in the thin air, and the two boys clearly get no support (nor visit) from their mother, who leaves the task to their loving but unable to act grandfathers. Still Ángel and Leo are united in their complementary reactions: whatever the younger and more sensitive brother cannot abide by, the older one is there to offer a helping hand -and sometimes a real safety valve.

Things seems rather ordinary in the state prison, which is depicted more like a neglected school complex than a gritty establishment; the inmates' teacher (Paulina García) is adamant and passionate in her view that children deserve a better (even University) future. Sometimes, even the children themselves think of that future, and there are various hints of a more inclusive society in the boys' bonding. Fantasies of escaping are rare, and solidarity seems to be the key for survival.

 The dramatic catalyst comes from a freewheeling, revolutionary spirit and inmate (who is also depicted as an anarchist in the making); still 'My Brothers Dream Awake' has many inciting incidents to offer -almost all of which involve Franco, the more sensitive part of this equation. This is where the film loses its steam, and police brutality sometimes look like another episode in our guessing game: when will the young revolt?

Without a steady prison suppressing presence during the first half, the characters looks like they need to invite the other side to start the atrocities. Huaiquimilla spends a lot of time in describing family and team dynamics, but curiously leaves the power to be invisible to everyone -including the audience. Which makes the film more than an educational rehearsal for a riot rather than an actual one. There are also grave events that can be shocking (like suicide attempts) but really offer nothing to the main plot.

Still, it is engaging to watch a team acting effort in subdued sentiments actually at work; there is a genuine care to depict the main character, who needs to cross the bridge between promised safety and uncertain liberty. Shy Ángel is no angel, but his character convincingly moves from careful optimism to desperation, and so is Iván Cáceres.

Claudia Huaiquimilla somehow rushes in from the start to prove that escape is an inevitability even in the best of education given, and that state cruelty has the final word. Her first impressive long shot, of the boys standing against the enormous prison well sets the stage; yet the film development looks trapped with external constant reminders (like incidents of Flea's frailty). Even though its subject matter and climax look more like a necessary step to reach out for the real facts, the film has its heart in the solid handling of group relationships, and the overall sensitivity and curiosity of the young characters to explore something bigger and better than their confined grasp.

Vassilis Kroustallis


Mis hermanos sueñan despiertos | My brothers dream awake (2021, Chile, 85')
DIRECTOR: Claudia Huaiquimilla | SCREENPLAY: Claudia Huaiquimilla & Pablo Greene | CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mauro Veloso | MUSIC: Miranda y Tobar | SOUND: Carlo Sánchez & Miguel Homazábal | PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Karla Molina | EDITOR: Andrea Chignoli & María José Salazar | PRODUCED BY: Pablo Greene Flaten & Mariana Tejos Martign
Cast: Iván Cáceres, César Herrera, Paulina García, Andrew Bargsted, Julia Lübbert, Sebastián Ayala, René Miranda, Luz Jiménez, Ariel Mateluna, Claudio Arredondo, Belén Herrera


My Brothers Dreamed Awake premiered at the 74th Locarno Film Festival (Concorso Cineasti del presente)