Las Acacias (Pablo Giorgelli, 2011)

“I was writing about my feelings, reflecting on my loneliness, but there was no story. But slowly those ideas started to transform into one, and a journey started taking form” – Pablo Giorelli quoted in Sight and Sound

Pablo Giorgelli’s debut feature Las Acacias won the London Film Festival Trophy for best first film and the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Its acclaim is justified.

Las Acacias sits in the road-movie canon whilst remaining fresh and intriguing due to Giorgelli’s deliberate pacing, narrative economy and ability to capture and elicit instinctive performances from his cast. The film is marked by Giorgelli’s rapturous attention to detail and economic, visual story-telling.

“The relationship between mother and child is rhythmic and innate; it does not rely on language.”

An indigenous young mother, Jacinta, and her baby, Anahí, are given a reluctant ride from Paraguay to Buenos Aires by Rubén, the taciturn truck driver. Rubén is so withdrawn and uncommunicative that the small cab of his truck, in which most of the film unfolds, is filled with a reverberating silence that switches on the mise-en-scène. Everything in the frame takes on an urgent significance, from the way the light catches the oblong wing-mirror, to the unshaven profile of Rubén and his fleeting glances at his passengers. Some films can make you smell, as well as see and hear. Giorgelli’s sustained formal control bestows the image with a sensuous quality; you can enter the space he creates: smell the cigarettes, petrol soaked cab and the fragrance of baby Anahí. Long scrutinising takes and tight framing facilitate this effect. In this cramped durational interior everything is intensified, sounds of breath and body ascend in substitution of dialogue, abridged by the incessant hum of the engine. There is no music, no establishing shots, no frills, the only reality is the immediate space inhabited by the characters; this is why the film may be described as ‘‘realistic’ or ‘natural’.

Mother and child

Little Anahí only cries three times, on such a long and uncomfortable journey this is testament to his temperament. But, the times he does cry the film reaches crescendos, there is nothing more distressing than the sound of a baby crying and it seems to mark shifts in tone. The first time Anahí cries Rubén considers buying mum and baby a bus ticket to Buenos Aires, the second time he cries Rubén comforts Anahí with a flask lid, which will later be imbued with significance, and the third time he cries Rubén, this sullen, forlorn man, actually cracks a joke and smiles.

“The lid ceases to be a lid, in the same moment Rubén ceases to be alone.” 

Giorgelli is using cinema to show us the subtlety of interpersonal space, and through film, illuminating the non-linguistic undulations of emotions that bring relationships into being. You can never really know anyone else. But, that yearning for companionship and complicity is etched in us from birth. The relationship between mother and child is rhythmic and innate; it does not rely on language. This type of communication is instinctive, rather than discursive. Jacinta, with astounding grace and ease, interacts with the baby Anahí (remarkably actress and baby are not related). Perhaps it is this bond that Rubén observes with such tenderness and apprehension that stirs him to empathy, love, and reflection.

The artist Graham Sutherland said of Picasso’s technique “that one’s emotions when facing an object could transform that object and give it a new vitality, transcending ordinary appearance (or function)” in Picasso’s paintings “things found new form through feeling.” Picasso painted objects in a transformative way imbuing landscapes and objects with vitality. A similar control of form and objects can be seen in Giorgelli’s treatment of Rubén’s flask lid. Over the course of the film it is transformed from an inert functional container to an emotionally charged conduit encapsulating the history and complexity of his relationship with both Jacinta and little Anahí. In the last sequence of the film Rubén presents Jacinta with the lid that calmed Anahí’s cries. This gesture signifies a metamorphosis: the lid ceases to be a lid, in the same moment Rubén ceases to be alone.

Las Acacias is a powerfully affecting film, and it’s showing at the BFI Southbank from 16 – 23rd March 2012.

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