El futuro perfecto, directed by Nele Wohlatz, blurs the line between real and unreal, presenting the linguistic fantasy of a Chinese immigrant recently arrived in Argentina. Seventeen-year-old Xiaobin doesn’t speak a word of Spanish when she arrives to live with her already settled family, but she nonetheless finds a job. Slowly but surely, Xiaobin starts saving money, which she uses to enroll in Spanish classes. At her job, she also develops a burgeoning friendship with a customer, Vijay from India, who she begins a secret relationship with, in spite of the fact that both struggle with Spanish.
Challenging the conventions of documentary, El futuro perfecto relies not only on recreation but the fulfillment of dreams. The titles, referring to the conditional tense, are continually evoked over the course of the film as Xiaobin gains more linguistic confidence. As she learns to use conditional verbs, Xiaobin imagines all the tributaries of experience that open up to her. As opportunity emerges through her evolving skill, the experience of language itself reveals a realm of previously unavailable desires and dreams.
How powerful can language be as a liberator? For Xiaobin, it becomes an opportunity to redefine her identity. Not only does she gain mobility within both public and private spaces, she gains control over her name, her wishes and her future. She tries on new names, first Beatriz and then Sabrina, flirting with the possibility of breaking with her parent’s desires. As the elders fight to keep Xiaobin out of language classes, it becomes increasingly clear that as long as she fails to learn Spanish, she will be under their control.
The stiff, awkward love story holds the film together, though. The plainness of discussion and the possibilities of misunderstanding are adrift, and yet baser desires don’t seem to enter the discussion. The improbable romance between two immigrants, who feel immense personal pressures and intense desire for escape, seems counterintuitive, as each tries to tie the other into their new life plan. Xiaobin, crucially, rejects at least some of that trajectory, imagining — almost wistfully — the version of events in which her independence will lead her towards vagrancy and pain. But rather than being merely hopeless, even this storyline has an edge of spontaneity that seems to excite rather than discourage.
Amidst all this are the language classes, which some critics have compared to a kind of Greek chorus. Offering a dissonant approach to learning a language, it renders the various students ambiguous vessels of fluid identities rather than fixed individuals. The students assume different personas, whether it’s a new profession or nationhood in order to act out the various educational scenarios. The poetry that emerges from the practical considerations of language is unexpected, in that we think of language as something that only reaches its full potential once it has been mastered. The linguistic conditions of El futuro perfecto suggest otherwise, portraying the adaptability of individuals to shape meaning and desires through mastery of rudimentary language, and to provide a greater representation of a certain language’s specificity and flow. As we take for granted the ease of our own native tongue, we are perhaps ignoring its full potential.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she has written for Vice Canada, Cleo: A Feminist Journal and Little White Lies Magazine.