High voltage drama, throwaway anecdotes that unveil sublime and somewhat enigmatic philosophical truth about life at the end, hilarious episodes which involve quaint and quirky hitchhikers , unpredictable deterrents that suddenly turn a cool journey into a cliff-hanger ----the familiar ingredients of a run-of-the-mill or a serious road movie which make it work--------are simply conspicuous by their absence in ‘Las Acacias’, a ‘confirmed’ road movie…! Sounds paradoxical, but Pablo Giorgelli’s debut feature ‘Las Acacias’(2011) virtually subverts the usual stereotype of this well known genre and yet looms large as a profound cinematic beauty reminiscent of the best in the business….! Since premiered in the International Critics' Week section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival winning the festival's coveted award for Best First Feature Film, the film has had an enviably glorious run so far grabbing more than half a dozen of prestigious awards in well known festivals across the globe.
A road movie definitely it is , at least structurally and stylistically. But I am smitten more by the film’s enormous genre-straddling potentialities. ‘Las Acasias’, which apparently tells a ‘deceptively’ simple story of two strangers going on a long and tangibly tedious journey together, reveals so much more. Ruben(German De Silva) is a lonely middle aged truck driver who has been driving the route between Paraguay and Buenos Aires for close to thirty years carrying wood. One day, the even tenor of Ruben’s routine journey is suddenly perturbed as he has to reluctantly transport a young woman, Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her five month old baby, Anahi to Buenos Aires as a favour for his employer. Their journey begins in silence and it remains almost wordless till the end . But as the journey progresses so does their relationship. Through an exquisite blend of minimalist verbal communication and eloquent non verbal communication , the story gradually unfolds itself . Mostly a quiet entity, Jacinta occasionally shows up the sober and solemn but sad and sensitive woman in her. She has a daughter who has no father. In a desperate bid to fend for herself and her daughter, she is migrating to Argentina to live with a cousin who, in turn, is expected to help her get a job. Ruben has a son, whom he met for the first time when he was four, and has not met for long eight years. He has a sister whom he seldom meets. The silence of the physical journey, however, fails to silence the journey into hearts fed by compassion and empathy. And over the course of the film their hearts, as distinctly evident in the final sequence, palpably sink into each other’s despite an utter lack of verbal communication between them. Thus ‘Las Acasias’ is about a journey that unravels before us an intensely human tale of survival, loneliness, compassion , friendship and , above all, the amazing prospect of human connection and empathy that might potentially culminate in love…. And what is still more amazing is all that is neatly and palatably packed in an- hour- plus, near silent movie…..!
Having said all that about the film’s thematic appeal, let me concede the storyline is not exactly its forte. A cinephile enamoured of road movies must have seen it so many times in a far more delectable form that he might easily and justifiably find its plot a hackneyed one. What makes ‘Las Acasias’ stand out from the crowd is the extraordinary cinematic treatment of its ‘ordinary’ threadbare subject. After having savoured a plethora of biggies of the genre ,which include thought provoking swashbucklers and nail biters like Godard’s ‘ Pierrot le Fou’(1965), Anthony Minghella’s ‘Cold Mountain’(2003), Sean Penn’s ‘ Into the Wild’(2007), Walter Salles’ ‘ The Motorcycle Diaries’(2004) ,and sensitive brain teasers like Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’(1957) , Dustin Hoffman starrer ‘Rain Man’(1988) and Danis Hopper’s classic ‘Easy Rider’(1969), I was naturally anticipating a similar engrossing and fulfilling experience as I was all set to sit through ‘Las Acasias’. Moving and soothing an experience it turned out to be. But then ,to my sheer amazement , it also turned out to be a thoroughly different cinematic journey! ….More than 90% of the screen space is occupied by the insipid , lacklustre, stuffy cabin of a truck that plies along an excruciatingly long and equally lacklustre route . The cabin is occupied by two strangers who , not to speak of engaging in any vigourous verbal communication , hardly talk to each other. Nor does the film have any music except the actual sounds that are integral part of such a truck journey. Apparently , ‘Las Acasias’ does not hold out any promise of a gripping , moving cinematic experience…But its director has a different take on the issue and he has all the deftness of a master director to pull off his offbeat approach to his ‘commonplace’ theme. His actors may not talk , but their faces do eloquently. Pablo Georgelli makes the most of the miraculous power of the faces of his cast to exude emotions and feelings spontaneously. Ruben often squints into his side mirrors, supports on a diagonal time and again as he drives along or resumes driving after a halt, and one can see the vehicles zooming up behind his truck and passing him---a spectacle which gives an impression he is actually driving. Absence of music in the film only heightens the verisimilitude sensitizing the audience to the actual sounds around . One can discern the directorial sleight in the use of light as well. While the cabin sequences betray a feel of real light, the few outdoor sequences that the film has are no exception. It is quite convincing to see the images and shadows being reflected on the window panes as darkness gradually descends . In fact, the mise-en-scene is contrived , designed and presented in such a naturalistic way that one can not interact with the film as a mere onlooker . One becomes part of it. As one sits through the film, one discovers oneself with Ruben , Jacinta and Anahi in real time living their experience as an ‘ invisible’ co-passenger. But it is undoubtedly the excellent close quarters cinematography which emerges as the tramp card of the film’s extraordinary cinematic treatment. The director and the cinematographer were definitely at the pinnacle of their creative prowess as they filmed the cabin sequences using a wide variety of appropriate angles successfully recreating the tedium and vapidity of a long truck journey and simultaneously redeeming the monotony with proper variations.
Pablo Georgelli’s 'Las Acasias’ is not a nail biter or a swashbuckler of the genre it represents. But I can assure you ,as a film buff, I have never seen any other road movie as soothing as Pablo Georgelli’s maiden venture. Kudos to ‘Las Acasias’….