Monday, 19 December 2011

'Las Acacias' review:

Pablo Giorgelli's little Argentine road movie 'Las Acacias' tells a simple story with minimal incident and even less dialogue. In it a long-distance lorry driver called Rubén (Germán de Silva) reluctantly drives a stranger, Jacinta (Hebe Duarte), and her baby girl all the way from Paraguay to Buenos Aires at the behest of his (unseen) boss. It's really just these two characters and an adorably smiley baby - probably the cutest on record - sitting in a lorry not talking to each other very much for 85 minutes. They make a couple of short stops, but otherwise the film is comprised of real-time snatches of this epic and awkward drive.

As with all road movies the journey is part metaphor, paralleling the development of the characters, though unlike most road movies there is little, if any, emphasis on landscapes. What we see of the overcast Argentine countryside is gleaned incidentally through the cabin window, with Giorgelli's camera more interested in - for want of a less pretentious turn of phrase - the landscape of the human face. The story takes a predictable arc and is far less compelling the talkier it becomes, as Rubén and Jacinta become more at ease in each other's company, but for the first half the emotional story is told with laudable economy, through glances and emphasis on small details.

For instance, it is notable that Rubén is uneasy when he finds he'll be driving a mother and child. Later Rubén swigs a bottle of water without any thought of offering it to his passengers, which gives us some indication of his reluctance to let them into his life. As he washes we see a large scar across his abdomen, emblematic of the emotional scars he carries - which we will come to understand as he opens up. His gestures become less misanthropic and he realises that his chosen life of isolation on the road is not necessarily where it's at. So it goes.

This reliance on visual metaphor might seem heavy-handed when read on the page but it's carried off with a pleasing degree of subtlety. This premise could probably have made a more compelling, not to mention tighter, twenty minute short without really losing anything other than the sense of time spent on the road. (As a case in point, the above trailer more or less contains all the key events in the narrative (and in order) in around 100 seconds.) Though in spite of this incredibly slight story, Giorgelli's film never really comes close to outstaying its welcome.

'Las Acacias' is out now in the UK and rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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