Down Argentina Way
Appropriately, Suddenly [Tan de Repente], an award winning first feature (including best film co-winner with the touted City of God in Havana) from twenty-six-year-old Argentine Diego Lerman, recalls the work of European auteurs and those Americans who might seem most European. Reminiscent in story and camera use of Orson Welles in his European phase, or of some Ingmar Bergman touches, Lerman's film calls up even more the work of the talented, underrated John Cassavetes.
In harsh, glaring overdeveloped-underdeveloped Dolby Digital b&w, relying on shaky handheld shots and abrupt cuts, with a penchant for rainy car- and shopwindows and mirrors, dialogue-less minutes where actors seem not so much delving or reflecting as simply living themselves and improvising, the film harks back to Faces and Husbands. Running counter to current vogue, even the numerous close-ups are fuzzed, so that focus is not on sharp images of every single facial hair. Yes, there are moles, blemishes and unpretty flesh but vaguely imaged so that one concentrates, not on the external, but, rather, is drawn underneath and inside to depths of love, loneliness, lust, selfishness, anguish and kindness in these few laconic characters. For once, subtitles can do no disservice, for the heart here is inarticulate, emotional, sub-vocal.
The film begins in a reduced, dreary Buenos Aires, moves from there to an equally dull seaside beach, then back onto the boring road and finally to a barely surviving egg-farm in Rosario, but there is really no sense of place, as outdoor and inside backdrops are unimportant alongside the characters and their sudden, shifting relationships.
Though the action is set in motion by sex, pure casual coupling, there is little flesh (and that little highly unerotic). There are non sequiturs -- if I didn't know Spanish and hadn't caught the fleet paracaidista in the closing credits, I would never have understood the dying, goggled, seemingly shrouded man (or men) on a night highway; there are three strange unrelated yet relevant references to orcas, of all creatures; sudden eruptions of gratuitous cruelty or underplayed tenderness; and two notably beautiful, almost throwaway, pieces -- in her finery, aged Aunt Blanca sings and dances a bolero, and, later, her face shines in a wonderful boating scene out of Buñuel-Dalí.
Except for shy, stuttering biology student Felipe (Marcos Ferrante), the cast is female, but this is not a feminist or any other "ist" tract. The script by Lerman and María Meira is really an inexpensive, quasi-documentarian exploration, with a feeling of much improvisation, of the ultimate impenetrability of constantly altering personal relationships, and of coming to terms with oneself and the past and present. Opportunities are missed and confused or seized momentarily, but will not ever return.
Plain plump Marcia (Tatiana Saphir), a cheap women's underwear salesgirl, is semi-kidnapped in daylight on a city street by a leather-jacketed punk-lesbian-but-bi couple calling themselves Mao (Carla Crespo) and Lenin (Veronica Hassan), because the former suddenly wants to have sex with her. With none of the violence one might expect, and with disarming sardonic humor, the threesome heads for the coast in a hijacked taxi, then via a few improbable, sometimes dryly hilarious hitchhikes, winds up at the decaying farm of Lenin's aunt, whom she has not seen for over nine years and who calls her Verónica, "the name my [estranged] mother gave me."
Marcia could have "escaped" several times en route but is so lonely, and fascinated, that she did not. New relationships are formed, haltingly and truly, among the three and Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin) and her two boarders, Felipe and lonely sometime-painter Delia (Maria Merlino).
Neither the characters nor their relationships are forced. What happens rings artless and honest, though deciding whether such an effect is studied or merely the result of amateurishness combined with a low budget will have to await additional films from this director. The film is promising and wonderful, needing maybe only a very few minutes' editing down. As with the work of other directors mentioned above -- the reference is a compliment -- my feeling is that most American audiences are probably not prepared for movies of this sort. They may not take to Suddenly, which is a shame, for this deceptively simple film has much to offer.
(Released by Empire Pictures; not rated by MPAA.)