Film Review: Las Acacias

Contemplative slice-of-life Argentine film about a trucker transporting a young mother 800 miles won the Camera d'Or prize for best first film at Cannes.

For a film whose main location is the cab of a long-haul truck, the Argentine drama Las Acacias manages to keep your eyes on the screen. First-time director Pablo Giorgelli, who has worked as a film editor and made a documentary short before this feature, risks long takes filled with prosaic motions—getting in and out of the truck, shifting gears, watching for traffic—that make you concentrate on the significance of each gesture or expression. Counter-intuitively, the utter ordinariness of a trucker transporting a woman and her baby from Paraguay to Argentina reassures us that, despite their being strangers to each other in an isolated environment where anything can happen, nothing unusual does. He's not a serial killer, she's not running from an abusive boyfriend, nothing's being smuggled across a border and there's no secret past between them. It's also not a budding romance or friendship, particularly, though it's not devoid of emotion. In a lot of ways, Las Acacias is its own creature.

That starts with the title, which doesn't translate to English: "Las Acacias" appears to be a store or a shopping center in Asunción, Paraguay, as well as an unrelated neighborhood in Montevideo, Uruguay, but the connection isn't apparent. Regardless, Rubén (Germán de Silva), hauling lumber on the more than 800-mile trip, has been told by his boss to take young Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her five-month-old daughter, Anahi (Nayra Calle Mamani), to Buenos Aires, where the woman has family and hopes to find a job. The taciturn, pinched-looking Rubén resigns himself to the task, as he clearly has to so much else. Wearing a perpetual scowl of disapproval and mild defeat, he drifts through life like a sigh given shape.

Jacinta, a plain-looking indigenous woman, is nondemanding company, requiring only the occasional stop to warm the baby's bottle and change her diaper. Rubén waits impatiently but uncomplainingly. Little by little, we learn…well, little. The baby's father isn't in the picture (both figuratively and literally). Rubén has a son he barely knows in Argentina—we don't know if the son is grown or not. He has a sister he gets along with, though he's only now dropping off a DVD player for her birthday that occurred two months ago. That's pretty much it, really.

And in its meticulously constructed way, that's pretty much all we need. The nonverbal cues patiently built up over time show us Rubén's longing for human connection, and his fear that he's simply not good at that. Jacinta is harder to parse, but it's clear this single mother's not bitter and no one's doormat.

With spare dialog that lands squarely, Las Acacias makes you concentrate on what the characters are thinking. And you'll more than likely know, since the filmmakers have managed the near-miraculous feat of creating two characters who aren't larger-than-life or quirky or anything other than what you and I might be in their place.