Las Acacias (2011)

Las Acacias

A slowly elegant meditation on intimacy and friendship, Pablo Giorgelli’s Las Acacias will have you screaming from the back seat with glee,”Are we nearly there yet?”

Las Acacias

Rolling Family by Mark Wilshin

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The South American road movie follows its own path. Unlike its counterpart north of the border, it’s down to earth and minimalist – no showboating rebel-rousing or iconic landscapes here. Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries and upcoming adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road are the closest it gets to Hollywood, the road movie as a journey of self discovery. Argentinian films though, like Carlos Sorín’s Historias Mínimas and Bombón El Perro or Pablo Trapero’s Familia Rodante are more reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, intimate journeys of hidden politics and ruminating friendships. And Pablo Giorgelli’s Las Acacias is no exception.

Opening on a forest clearing in Paraguay where chainsaws thrum and acacias crash to earth, Las Acacias immediately calls South America’s enormous deforestation problem to mind. The Chaco region of Paraguay is particularly affected, losing hectares, habitats and tribal homes every day. It’s strangely shocking and political in a way the rest of Las Acacias isn’t, the acacia leaves burning while trunks are chopped up and hoisted onto Ruben’s truck. But it’s perhaps the tree’s thorns that suggest the title – the barbed path to friendship and the rising sap of a pair of scarred and damaged wild woods cut down in their prime.

Driving back to Buenos Aires, Ruben is joined by an acquaintance of his boss, Jacinta and her five-month old daughter Anahi. And it’s their almost silent relationship that forms the trunk of Giorgelli’s story. To begin with, you might wonder if the ice will ever break between this taciturn pair, keeping each other firmly at a distance with swigs of a  maté and tearful glances over the countryside rolling past. At first, Ruben treats her with disdain, resolutely silent, impatient at her daughter’s hungry tears and even enquiring after a bus ticket to Buenos Aires for them just to get them out of his cab. But slowly he softens. Previously tight-lipped, he starts to make conversation, even going so far as to carry her bags and open the truck door for her, putting out his cigarette for the sake of the baby or sharing his tea.

Estranged from his son and his sister, he has no family to speak of and it’s not long before Jacinta and Anahi become a kind of family by proxy. He holds her daughter and  gives Anahi his thermos cup to play with and keep – a gesture not only to remember him by but also to stay the moment of their parting. Filled with moments that plunge their relation deeper, like the sudden crack of a felled tree, Las Acacias is an elegant portrait of the dynamics of friendship – the bond between them deepening with every revealed intimacy. Each sequence builds inexorably on the previous one, ring upon ring, branch upon branch, until the tip appears above the clouds and a further show of intimacy must be dared tto allow a more permanent relationship to take root. After Jacinta’s flirtation with a fellow Guarani from Paraguay, Ruben fails to take their relationship to the next step during their drive to the capital. But parked outside her cousin’s door and with the threat of never seeing Jacinta or Anahi again looming, finally he dares and wins.

Like Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, there’s a couched look at Argentinan politics here too, the morose and lonely European rejecting, slowly accepting and ultimately falling in love with the Amerindian woman and her daughter, a perhaps all too neat encapsulation of Argentinia’s future. A film of hypnotic night-time headlamps, hardshoulder cigarettes and balletic turning chassis, Las Acacias is all the same a funny kind of road movie. The drive towards romance and optimism runs counter to the film’s geographical arc – from rural deforestation to the wood-guzzling, steak-eating metropolis, from the tribal forest to the city.  It may be a politically acute reflection of indigenous peoples flushed out of their lands, but with hints of a bad past and a rose-tinged hope for a better future,  Las Acacias reveals a strange kind of hope where people can come together, but in a land without trees.

Las Acacias is released in the UK on 2nd December 2011

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