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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Movies of My Life

Alberto Fuguet

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Movies of My Life

Title: The Movies of My Life
Author: Alberto Fuguet
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 287 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Movies of My Life - US
Las películas de mi vida - US
The Movies of My Life - UK
The Movies of My Life - Canada
Die Filme meines Lebens - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Las películas de mi vida
  • Translated by Ezra E. Fitz

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Our Assessment:

B : good idea, but doesn't do enough with it -- and it doesn't do much for the story as a whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/11/2003 James Polk
The New Yorker . 20/10/2003 .
The Village Voice . 2/12/2003 Dennis Lim
World Lit. Today . 1-4/2005 Daniel Garrett

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beltrán's memories evolve into a kind of autobiographical journey in which everything seems transitory, glimpsed on the run. (...) In this lucid translation by Ezra E. Fitz, the Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet's novel is an unstable voyage, high on the Richter scale, where nothing is solid and nothing is final." - James Polk, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Fuguet has created a modern bildungsroman in which American culture enhances, rather than suffocates, the protagonistís understanding of his native country." - The New Yorker

  • "Title and Hornby-ish fanboy conceit notwithstanding, Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet's The Movies of My Life is less about cinemania than family betrayal." - Dennis Lim, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Movies of My Life has an appealing conceit: the narrator, Beltrán Soler, recounts his life in fifty movies, describing when he first saw specific films as well as the surrounding circumstances as a way of recounting his childhood and youth. There's obviously a good deal of potential in this sort of presentation of a life-in-films, but Fuguet doesn't go all out with it. For one, it takes almost a quarter of a book before he begins with the film-chapters. And even then his character seems unsure about the approach, e-mailing the list to someone he just met on a plane ("maybe I don't have anyone else in the world to send my list to") and offering coy warnings you never want to read in a novel ("I've never written a thing in my life").
       Beltrán is a seismologist -- a lot to burden a protagonist with too: hey ! you can never be sure you're standing on firm ground ! your world can get shaken up and come crumbling down at a moment's notice ! etc., etc. He's on his way to Japan, but extends his layover in Los Angeles -- a return to his youth, of sorts as he -- like author Fuguet --, spent his early childhood there before moving back to Chile. His family is frayed and flung apart, which he describes in greater detail over the course of his film-accounts, and the book begins with him receiving word of the death of one family member. The phone call with his sister informing him of the death ends with an exchange that suggests at least some of what will be dredged up in his reminiscences:

     "When did everything get so fucked up ?"
     "I don't know. Things weren't always so bad, Beltán. For a while we were just what we wanted to be."
     "Things were good for a while, yes."
     "Then it all went downhill."
     "And we're still feeling the aftershocks."
       Subtlety, you may have guessed, is not one of Fuguet's strong points.
       When he finally gets around to the film-chapters -- a few pages, at most, on each film, in chronological order -- the book becomes even more pedestrian. While the present-day Beltrán was of some interest, his childhood-account is, by and large, too unexceptional to be of much interest. If Fuguet had really built the memories up entirely around the films it may have worked better, but instead the films are often barely more than a memory-aid to bring him back to a certain time or event. (It doesn't help that the American first edition of the book confusingly misprints the date seen of the very first film (as 1996, instead of 1966), a bit of uncertainty that makes it even harder to trust the gimmick.)
       The movie-chapters are divided into two sections, of twenty-five films/chapters each, the first from when the family lived in California, the second from when they moved back to Chile, after the fall of Allende. Like the author, Beltrán was born in 1964, and his film-watching tracks those years; it's unclear how readers from other generations will react to what he saw, since what the descriptions evoke obviously hinges also in large part on the reader's own recollection of films such as the Disney-productions of those years (including the Kurt Russell-as-Dexter Riley films ...), Jan-Michael Vincent and Bonnie Bedelia in Sandcastles, and, of course, all the disaster movies of the day -- Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and, of course, Earthquake.
       There are a few inspired moments, such as when he sees that Soylent Green is playing in Santiago shortly after they move there, and he notes:
I didn't know New York, but 1974 Santiago seemed a lot like the decrepit Manhattan of 2022.
       But Fuguet doesn't seem to trust his premise very much, going so far as to undermine it by writing early in the Chile-section that:
     There was so much to see in Santiago that going to the movies quickly became unnecessary. Life in California was so uneventful that we turned to movies to give us everything we couldn't find in the neighborhood; in Chile, however, everything was so intense -- so completely strange and inexplicable -- that people went to the movies only when they wanted to kick back and relax.
       Unfortunately that doesn't come across in his account, as life in Chile isn't much less uneventful than the family's life in California was ..... But it does serve to leave the reader wondering what the point of recounting his film-viewing-experiences is.
       The Movies of My Life is very much a novel about Beltrán's extended family and how it barely holds together (and ultimately falls very much apart). There are some enjoyable earthquake-ideas tied in (as his grandfather was also a noted seismologist), but that whole strain of the novel also feels a bit forced and artificial. There's a decent story here somewhere, but most of it is -- as presented -- unexceptional, and Fuguet is too unsuccessful in tieing it together with his film-accounts.
       This feels like a very carefully planned and outlined novel, based on a clever idea, where the filling simply can't sustain structure. Fuguet is certainly competent, but for the most part he tries far too hard, leading also to awful attempts to be deep and meaningful, as when he writes:
     It's best to arrive in Los Angeles at night.
     If you get there during the day, it's too easy to see the truth: the city doesn't have angels, dreams, or stars. But if you arrive at night, the idea of sleeping vanishes, no matter how tired you are, and you feel -- if only for a moment -- privileged. You feel that it's not just by chance that you're here, where movies are born.
       There are enough interesting snippets -- especially about life both in California and in Chile in those years -- throughout to make the book readable, and the film-name-dropping can be fun to follow (especially for those of us of Fuguet's generation) but the book falls far short of any of its ambitions.

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The Movies of My Life: Reviews: Alberto Fuguet: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Alberto Fuguet was born in 1964 and spent his early childhood in the United States.

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