PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

In 'Tea Time', 60 Years of Illusions and Pretense Are Pleasantly Lost

Filmed over six years, Maite Alberdi's lovely, profound documentary observes five former Catholic high school classmates' conversations.


Tea Time (La once)

Director: Maite Alberdi
Cast: Alicia, Gema, Angelica, Ximena, María Teresa Muñoz
Rated: NR
Studio: ITVS
Year: 2014
US date: 2015-07-27 (PBS)
Website
Trailer

"In a family, the father and mother have different obligations." Alicia is reading from her Home Economics notebook, dating back some 60 years. She wears a pink plaid suit and pearls, the table before her and her four friends set with silver and china. "While the father must provide money to meet the needs of the family," she continues, her pink-framed glasses perched on her nose "the mother is responsible for household administration, and ensure the heath and happiness of the family."

The camera cuts from its close-up on Alicia's face to María's, who tips her head back and sighs, her hands clasped as if in prayer. When the camera cuts back to Alicia, her face is briefly blocked as María moves in the frame, her head and her hands in motion. Restless, the friends listen to the list of skills a mother needs in order to fulfill her "obligations". Not only must she maintain her family's hygiene as well as her own ("I have these grandchildren who would only bathe once a year when they were little," María interjects), but she must also have "good character, understanding, zeal, tolerance, prudence, self-control". Here María's hand again sweeps across the frame, as the ladies begin to laugh. "Self-control! This is what caught my attention."

It's near the start of Tea Time, following these ladies' annual get-togethers. Filmed over six years (beginning with a meeting 60 years after the former classmates' last day of their Catholic high school in Chile), Maite Alberdi's lovely and profound documentary observes their conversations and their habits, their losses and their discoveries. Together, the women share a special kind of language born of trust and habit. They know and don't judge one another, they share experiences as close frames of faces and foods convey their continuing, shifting strands of intimacy.

Chocolate cake with strawberries and whipped cream, raspberry tarts, finger sandwiches and cupcakes with green icing: each dish is prepared with care, whether by the hostess for that year's assembly or the maids who serve them. The meetings begin with a prayer, then a kind of news recap. A friend has died, they say, then briefly contemplate mortality (she died of "the same thing I have," says one lady, though the dead woman's diagnosis came late). Her death was 'fast", they nod, before they recount that Alicia's prayer preceded her demise: "Every time she prays," the women note, "The person dies the same night!" Everyone laughs.

Individually, and mostly off-screen, the women have all lived long, complicated lives, four with husbands and one, Gema, unmarried. She's "the one who really has an attitude", narrates María. Gema keeps up to date, María observes, as you see her tap-tapping on her laptop keyboard even as María adds that she's also the "most traditional", and tends to "censure" the rest of them. Gema, María asserts, is the opposite of Angelica, whom you see serving her husband, seated at the end of a perfectly polished table. He's one of two military husbands, vaguely described as demanding. "She's good, too good," narrates María. "She wants to make everyone happy even if it's not worth it."

So, okay, they do judge, just a little. They also ask questions, of each other and themselves, quietly, and not always seeking answers concerning the choices they've made. "A job away from home at first may look quite beneficial," the home economics notebook cautions, before it remarks the dangers of leaving the "health and moral of her children" to the care of servants. As María begins to count off on her fingers the many ways that women work -- then and now, at home and away -- a server enters the frame behind Alicia, her face out of frame but her hands and torso making visible the question that hovers: what to make of her unseen experience, working in someone else's home even as she also looks after her own family?

As the women at the table remember their own family dynamics, their husbands' preferences. When María remembers her honeymoon, and begins singing an old ballad she remembers from that time: "I can forget about you, / The world seems different…" From off-screen, one of the other ladies interrupts, "Enough!" They laugh again. Memories are fine, but nostalgia can be wearing.

All the women acknowledge that "times" have changed, even if a couple of them long for the seeming simplicity of the past. It was "better", observes one, when women did stay home with their children. Today, well, "Any girl with a boyfriend has sex," observes Angelica, her purple scarf and pink blouse neatly aligned. In these times, no one marries a virgin, Alicia says. "But neither in those times," adds Angelica, "It was full of whorehouses."

Changes in expectations and obligations mean that illusions and pretense are lost. Maria brings up what she's read about Blue Is the Warmest Color, "a movie about lesbians". "The review says precisely that it's a pleasing movie to watch," she says, as some ladies shake their heads and others lean forward. "But I add that I don't like the subject," even if it is less objectionable than "watching all those films with blacks at police stations."

The tight frame and her listener's hairdo make it almost impossible to see Maria's face now. Together they consider the question of judgment, that is, God's judgment of "these people". Maybe there has been "too much evolution in our time", they agree, as the camera shows single shots of lipstick applications, one by one the ladies looking into their pink and white compacts, dabbing at their lips, refining the ideal they've learned and achieved over time. Evolution is relative.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.