Mate Alberdi’s acclaimed film Tea Time (La once) follows a group of five Chilean women who have gathered once a month for the past 60 years to speak their minds—and reveal the current state of their hearts and souls. In an abiding ritual of friendship and survival, these now-elderly Santiago women have come together for tea and pastries—and talk—during an era of intense social and personal change.
Director Alberdi, granddaughter of one of the group members, captures their intimate, charming and poignant gatherings in Tea Time, which has its national broadcast premiere on PBS’s POV (Point of View) series -American television’s longest-running independent documentary series- on Monday, July 27, 2015 at 10pm (check local listings).
While all five core participants—Alicia, Gema, Angélica, Ximena and Maria Teresa (Alberdi’s grandmother)—have similar backgrounds and all graduated from the same Catholic high school in the 1950s, their lives have taken different paths. One has never married: “She had lovers, but no one gave her what she wanted,” says Maria Teresa, who does most of the narration. Others had husbands in the military, while another who was not able to pursue college takes continuing-education courses. High school photographs show all five in the bloom of youth; the film illuminates them in the sometimes hard-won glow of a lifetime of experiences.
“Tea Time takes us through a rite of friendship and shows the importance of traditions and celebrations and how rituals can help life make sense,” says director Alberdi.
Alberdi sees a timelessness in this ritual. “As a granddaughter of one of the characters, I have been observing this monthly rite since childhood, and I have always seen the women in the same way: They have never aged. I’m interested in portraying this new way of living old age—in which new possibilities arise, though inevitably, they may be the last ones.”
A celebration of the small things that sustain us, Tea Time illuminates a beautiful paradox: As the world they were born into slips away—“Take me back to that age when to live was to dream,” Maria Teresa says near the film’s end—these friendships grow ever stronger and more profound.
Tea Time, Alberdi’s second documentary feature, had its world premiere at IDFA, and won the award for best Chilean film at the 2014 Santiago International Film Festival, where the filmmaker also won for best director of a Chilean film. The film won a 2014 EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Documentary at IDFA and Best Documentary awards from the 2015 Guadalajara Film Festival and the 2015 Cartagena Film Festival, plus the Knight Documentary Achievement Award from the 2015 Miami International Film Festival.