…some thoughts on Las Acacias…

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I saw this film in the cinema at the end of last year; it’s now out on DVD. A second viewing has confirmed first impressions: Las Acacias is a perfectly formed, subtle, moving, and heartwarming little gem.

Philip French doesn’t agree; he flatly dismisses the film in his short Guardian review:-

In this widely praised minimalist road movie a middle-aged Argentinian long-distance lorry driver gives a young Paraguayan single mother and her five-month-old daughter a lift from southern Paraguay to Buenos Aires. Virtually nothing is said in the first half hour and little in the next 50 minutes. There are no interesting encounters, the scenery is unremarkable. But he gradually takes to the child, offers them water to drink and does a little nursing. Not exactly The Wages of Fear.

More to my liking, here’s Peter Bradshaw writing about the same film, again in the Guardian:-

A relationship movie, a road movie, a silent movie: Las Acacias is all these. Pablo Giorgelli has made a film that unfolds almost wordlessly, but very eloquently, and the unforced performances of its two leads make it absolutely beguiling.

Both reviews highlight the film’s sparse dialogue, something which works well – thanks to the understated, natural performances. Mark Cousins uses a good phrase about the camera in cinema, and one that is particularly apt for this film, he calls it an ’empathy machine’.

This kind of film builds on one of cinema’s key strengths, it’s ability to work by inference. The camera which studies so closely the faces of a film’s characters relies on the audience to interpret the meaning of their expressions. Of course, everything is structured (via performance, framing, acting, context, sound design, etc) to lead the viewer to certain conclusions or perhaps to signal ambiguities. A good filmmaker will not overstate, encouraging the viewer to discover the meaning(s) for themselves. Las Acacias is a film built on the audience trying to understand what is happening in the heads of the two leads, encouraging viewer participation and empathy.

I remember at last year’s Cambridge Film Festival listening with fascination to the Dutch director Jos Stelling – a master of dialogue-light films – discussing how he uses the camera to establish connections between characters. Again, Las Acacias is fundamentally about us watching the unspoken communication between the two leads as their relationship changes and develops. The actors’ brilliantly subtle performances are brought to life by careful framing, and focus, and matching eyeline shots. (Surely the matching eyeline grammar of film is one if its greatest innovations). The empathy machine at work.

If you haven’t seen Las Acacias, it really is something very special and well worth taking a look at.

Although Philip French would say otherwise!

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