We meet two men thrown together by circumstance at a rural Argentinean gas station, Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd) having driven Ezequiel, known as Chicho, (Ezequiel Pierri), to pick up the car Rafa refers to as stolen. But Chicho disagrees, having loaned the car to Rafa’s girlfriend Laura (Laura Paredes, "Argentina, 1985"), a fact we’ll learn much later as the two men search for the woman who disappeared after completing a botanical field study in “Trenque Lauquen.”
Laura's Review: A
Cowriter (with star Paredes)/director Laura Citarella’s unique film is actually two, broken in Parts I and II and totaling nearly four and a half hours, but do not let that dissuade you as they may well be some of the most compelling hours you will spend at the cinema this year. The film is named after a real city 276 miles west of Buenos Aires and it becomes its own character, holding as many mysteries as the fictional Twin Peaks, cinematographers Agustin Mendilaharzu, Inés Duacastella and Yarará Rodríguez capturing its pastoral beauty like a trio of Hudson Valley painters.
Citarella and Paredes’ screenplay is masterfully constructed. Part One take us farther and farther down the threefold rabbit holes of Laura’s disappearance, the mystery she was trying to solve with Chicho involving letters hidden in Trenque Lauquen library books and the specific yellow flower Laura had yet to identify. Rafa is convinced the latter is her quest while Chicho secretly favors the former, an erotic love story that kindled sparks between its investigators and left them wondering about the child born of it. There are plenty of other diversions to be found as well, like the stories Laura digs up for her ‘Women in History’ radio segment on Juliana’s (Juliana Muras) Trenque Lauquen ‘A Sea of News’ program; Chicho’s visit to his old school, where he identifies a picture of their letter writer, Carmen Zuna (she and her lover are portrayed in flashback by Paredes and Pierri), through the process of elimination and Rafa’s humorous attempt to unravel academic red tape with Normita (Cecilia Rainero) before he heads back to Buenos Aires.
While Part One skips about in time and stories real and imagined, Part Two slows down, plunging us into the previously unseen radio station to follow Laura’s story from her point of view beginning just before she asks Chicho if she can borrow his car. Citarrella and her star will revisit many of Part One’s scenes, coming full circle back to the gas station where it all began, and yet it tells almost an entirely different story, one involving an unseen alien rescued from Trenque Lauquen’s park lake which miraculously never feels silly (Trenque Lauquen translates to ‘round lagoon’). This helps explains Citarella’s playful use of music, a Theremin introduced in Part One when driving by Trenque Lauquen’s saucer-shaped water tower coming back as Laura cozies up to the woman, Elisa Esperanza (Elisa Carricajo, "La Flor"), she thought was a ghost in Part One in order to see the aquatic alien the woman and her lover, Romina (Verónica Llinás) rescued (the director also uses genre mystery music featuring violins and cello, atmospheric guitar tied to the landscape and Viennese waltzes).
Parades’ portrayal of Laura is one of unlimited curiosity, an amateur detective willing to leap at any dangling thread that catches her fancy and the actress keeps us invested in Laura’s fate right up through Citarella’s perfect ending, a new mystery achieved via camera pan. Pierri provides a mournful undertone of yearning romanticism, the married father’s loss of his playmate gently acknowledged by Muras’s Juliana as she leads him towards the truth with a shared secret recording.
“Trenque Lauquen” will envelop you in its many mysteries and delight you with its mischievous spirit. Have you ever fallen in love with a movie? This one might just do the trick.
Robin's Review: A
Cinema Guild released “Trenque Lauquen” in select theaters on 4/21/23. Click here for play dates.