Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 11, 2024 6:47 pm 
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All because of algo

it might have been called "The Disappearance of Laura," but that would be obvious and also would hint that the mystery was to be solved. In the spirit of Buenos Aires homeboy Jorge Luis Borges and the Sixties writings of John Barth, this is a a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, a surreal tale (with probable cinematic nods to the Davud Lynch of Twin Peaks) - and a tale where the solution lies in the search, and the key to the riddle is the riddle and the story is a story within a story. Tara Brady of the Irish Times sees links with "the mumblecore science fiction of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Colour..." Let's play with those links and see where they go; but this is a tale wedded to its Argentinian milieu, the language, the atmosphere, the scruffy-chic provincialism.

It works, and attracts, through its deadpan obsessiveness, its absolute confidence that what it is focused on is of exceptional, compelling interest. The result is that it has received wide acclaim. I don't want to be a dissenter. But I warn you that you had best open your mind and stay focused. Look away and it all might dissolve into foolishness. Not wanting to stay up late, I stopped overnight and finished the second half of Part 2 the next day, and that was a mistake because some of the suspense was lost.

As a firm stay against confusion, and because the whole inquest for the disappeared Laura runs four hours and twenty-two minutes, it's divided into two parts, and these two include twelve chapters.

Why did Laura disappear? Well, that's the mystery, isn't it? She disappeared because of algo, something, a creature, seen or not seen, something that sets Laura off, derails her, makes the world go haywire. What is it? A phantom; an alligator, a mutant shape-shifter; a child; a pregnant woman? nobody knows.

The search for Laura is under way in Part I's first scene, where two men are standing around near a car, just arrived somewhere, and one of them is in determined mobile-phone conversation with somebody about it. This scene sets the stage, and in a way is my favorite moment. It says we don't know what this is all about but we will somehow, some way, care very much about it, and you will too. Pay attention. This scene establishes director Citarella and her able cast's absolute confidence and absorption in the work at hand.

What follows of course must involve shifts back and forth in time, because there's a need to explore events leading up to the disappearance. There is a big focus in Part I on the small, pale-faced Laura herself (Laura Paredes, a co-writer and also involved in Mariano Llinás' six-part, 13 1/2 hour 2018 film La Flor) and the big, redheaded, slightly goofy Ezequiel, also known as Chicho (Ezequiel Pierri), who, but the way, is a married man. Laura draws Chcho into her discovery of an erotic romance chronicled in letters she finds hidden in a string of library books all taken out be the same borrower. We see her take out piles of books and poke them and shake them, pulling out these old letters. Then she reads them to Chicho. The process of unpacking this secret, enticingly concealed romance turns them on, and attracts them to each other, and him to her especially. It's all wonderfully implausible, and we love it, because, like the opening scene, it's so sure of itself.

Other sections focus extensively on the role of Laura, who's a botanist, as a woman's history contributor to a radio station, via a program called "The Sea of News." The film is impressive for the inventive ways it makes radio broadcasting interesting; the interplay among the various broadcasters; Laura's strange use of solo recording at the station as a diary of her increasingly convoluted experiences outside, and in the town of Trenque Lauquen. Yes, Trenque Lauquen, "a city in the west of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 444 km (276 mi) from Buenos Aires City and 80 km (50 mi) from the border ..." A provincial town, whose big, empty, slightly ugly streets and cement buildings we see a lot of, cruising around them. This film makes mystery and draws excitement out of this town's anonymousness. That is the magic of this film: it continually makes something out of nothing.

The most memorable scene comes when Laura, derailed by her inexplicable discovery, or maybe just un poco loca, goes walkabout - She takes a bike, and at one point she steals a white horse, but most of the time she is literally just walking cross-country - wanders into a little working class bar dense with men smoking, drinking, and playing cards. She sits to one side. They all stare at her. They seem to toast her. One of them does card tricks to impress her. This scene will stay with me. I wish there had been more like it.

(For more details of the complicated plot go to Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review. But Devika Gerish was more enthusiastic in the New York Times, describing Trenque Lauquen as "wondrous" and advising you to "lose yourself" in its sprawling narrative.)

Trenque Lauquen, Parts 1 & 2, 262 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 7, 2022, also showing at San Sebastián, Hamburg, NYFF, Ghent, and other festivals, including Vienna, AFI and Taipei. In the Cinema Tropical awards, Trenque Lauquen was named Best Latin American Film of the Year. It (or they, both parts with a little intermission) can currently be watched in the US only on AppleTV. AlloCiné press rating 4.2 (84%). Metacritic rating 94% for both Parte I[ and Parte II.

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