On the road movie – again

An Argentinian take on the well-trodden road-movie genre is hugely uneventful - but it is worth staying till the end.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
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Since its inception in the 1960s, the road movie genre has always represented adventure, debauchery and freedom. One is put in mind of Bonnie and Clyde charging along an open road leaving bodies and bank vaults in their wake, or Wyatt and Billy in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider blowing joint smoke in the face of conformity.

Argentinean director Pablo Giorgelli’s debut feature Las Acacias embodies none of these conventions, but it is a road movie in the most essential sense of the phrase. It is a story about driving from point A to point B: middle-aged truck driver Rubén (Germán de Silva) has been asked by his boss to transport single mother Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her five-month-old daughter Anahí (Nayra Calle Mamani) to her cousin’s house in Buenos Aires, where she hopes to find work. Other than the occasional stop to refuel and have dinner, it is a full 85 minutes of Rubén just getting on with the job.

In the film’s opening half hour we are constantly taunted with the possibility of conventional drama, yet it is dismissed at every turn. Going on Rubén’s gruff demeanour, one assumes this may be a slightly dodgy arrangement, in which Jacinta has paid Rubén’s boss to help her get out of the country. However, it turns out to be pretty much above board. When they are stopped at the border, one expects them to spout a web of lies to keep the shady truth from the inspectors, but in fact they merely explain themselves sincerely and are let through without any hassle. Similarly, the mystery surrounding Jacinta and Anahí, who she insists ‘has no father’, is never really explored. At one point, Ruben sees Jacinta crying, but instead of asking her what’s wrong and give her the chance to tell her story, he walks away.

After a while you’re forced to confront the fact that the film isn’t going to diverge at all from the straightforward route it set out to take. At the Sunday morning ‘OAPs get in free’ screening that I attended, a good few of the older patrons eventually gave up and walked out, unable to bear the boredom anymore and free from the desire to get their money’s worth. Yet as gruellingly tedious as Las Acacias can be, if you persist you’re gifted with a touching and surprisingly unique film experience.

Unlike the road movie heroes of old, who took to the highway in search of adventure, driving is Ruben’s profession and it isolates him from the rest of the world. Constantly hauling lumber from one place to the next, he is deprived of any human contact, and at the beginning he sees Jacinta and Anahí as a mere inconvenience. But in spite of Rubén’s detachment and Jacinta’s ‘I’ve been hurt before’ timidity, the two begin to bond. While the premise is admittedly a little corny, their relationship unfolds in a completely natural way, emanating out of brief conversations and fleeting glances. Of course, this is all far from exciting, but Giorgelli’s pared-down style brings a reality and poignancy to the narrative, which is in itself rather captivating.

The most diligent viewer should be forgiven for phasing out from time to time, but boredom seems to be an essential reaction which the film seeks to invoke. Forced to spend an hour-and-a-half imprisoned in Rubén’s truck, we become like another passenger, and while your eyes may occasionally wander or you may even nod off, you nevertheless find yourself engrossed in their journey. The film builds softly to a bittersweet ending and having been so closely subjected to this would-be courtship yourself, it is all the more heartrending.

Las Acacias is a road movie about as exciting as a long commute. Nothing really happens and even less is said. But within its static, self-contained world, something pretty remarkable takes place.

Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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