Trenque Lauquen

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Trenque Lauquen Part I
"Almost every part of this slowburn road to not quite the middle of nowhere could be read either as a clue or a clever maguffin." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

The latest from Argentine director Laura Citrella - which unfolds across two films and four hours - will best appeal to those who like their mystery to come wrapped in an enigma or enjoy their shaggy dog stories to shake many tales. Folded within her central narrative are stories of feminism and self-determination, of self-sacrifice and love although some patience is required and those looking for the final full stop may find themselves thwarted.

Showing as two parts at various festivals, including New York and San Sebastian, while you could, just about, watch them as separate, individual, stories with their own self-contained secrets, they work best as companion pieces and, as such, we're reviewing them together. If that Russian doll nest is not enough for you, Citrella also says in her director's notes that the film is "part of a larger idea: a group of films where the same character [played by the same actress] lives different lives in different towns in the province of Buenos Aires", which began with 2011's Ostende.

Copy picture

At the heart of both, though not always its centre of attention, is Laura (Laura Paredes), whose life will be interrogated over four hours from different perspectives, while she, in turn, investigates other mysteries she encounters. In fact, it's a conundrum involving Laura that instigates the story - her sudden disappearance - which unexpectedly brings together two different men in her life. Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd) and Ezekiel (Ezequiel Pierri).

As the men head out in search of her, Ezekiel finds a note reading, “Farewell, Farewell. I’m going away” on the windscreen of his car, which she was last seen “borrowing”. Both the meaning of this and the reasons why Ezekiel doesn’t share this news with Rafa will gradually be revealed across the course of Part 1. Laura is in Trenque Lauquen - a genuine city in the west of Argentina - collecting orchid samples for a project, something that Rafael knows all about as he is not only her partner but her boss. Ezekiel works for the municipality as a driver and initially becomes involved in driving Laura from place to place, until a revelation about a secret cache of correspondence she has found leads him to join her in a historical mystery surrounding clandestine romance.

That the first letter Laura encounters is found between pages of a novel that have been deliberately stuck together is as much an indicator of what Citrella is doing as a plot driver, although, we would also do well to heed the later warning of the would-be magician entertaining his friend with card tricks in a bar, “I shuffle. You won’t discover a thing.”

The story passes like a baton between its 12 parts, memory to memory, each character or object taking us on an individual camino that connects, and often expands on, the first. Some mysteries, such as much of that historical romance in Part I, will be largely revealed, while others, like the sighting of a strange creature at the local lake, which largely drives Trenque Lauquen Part II remain opaque but Citrella maintains a high level of intrigue throughout.

The writer/director doesn’t just love the idea of the epistolary, it’s no accident that the radio station programme to which Laura contributes snippets about pivotal women, like Lady Godiva, is called Sea of News or that its adverts constantly instructs those who tune in to “watch with your ears”. Genre, too, is a fluid prospect, with the second part of the film carrying with it much more unsettling, at times almost Lynchian, tone, but also holding humour and some sustained mystery from the first. Almost every part of this slowburn road to not quite the middle of nowhere could be read either as a clue or a clever maguffin, whether it's the lyrics of the song Ezekiel plays as he starts to imagine a new part for him in Laura’s story or the noises that she hears when staying with a pair of women who have a secret on their first floor.

What you take away from the film is liable to vary from viewer to viewer - but Citrella’s asks you to stop and smell the flowers rather than worrying too much about the destination.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2022
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Trenque Lauquen packshot
Story set in the Argentinian city of the title, centring on an academic who has disappeared. The story is told across two feature films.
Amazon link

Director: Laura Citarella

Starring: Elisa Carricajo, Verónica Llinás, Juliana Muras, Laura Paredes, Ezequiel Pierri, Cecilia Rainero, Rafael Spregelburd

Year: 2022

Runtime: 120 minutes


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