"Las acacias" touchingly unfolds a passing-ships encounter between a truck driver and a mother who hires him to get her from Paraguay to Buenos Aires.

Delicate yet rigorously executed, road movie “Las acacias” touchingly unfolds a passing-ships encounter between a truck driver and a mother who hires him to get her from Paraguay to Buenos Aires. A debut feature for editor and documaker Pablo Giorgelli, pic reps a master class in low-key but wholly effective thesping, as characters played by German De Silva and Hebe Duarte get to know each other via dialogue that would barely cover 20 written pages. Slow-burning pic takes a while to warm up, but once it gets going, it’s a corker that could enchant as an ultra-niche release offshore.

Somewhere in provincial Paraguay, middle-aged trucker Ruben (De Silva) picks up first a load of lumber bound for Buenos Aires way down south, and then countrywoman Jacinta (Duarte), who’s headed for the city in search of employment, with her 5-month-old daughter Anahi (adorable Nayra Calle Mamani) in tow. Although Ruben agreed to give them a lift (his unseen boss also employs Jacinta’s sister), it’s clear from the look on his face that he didn’t expect a baby to be coming, and would gladly off-load them on a bus or even the side of the road if he could.

Via scenes that unfold mostly within the confines of the truck’s cab, Ruben, Jacinta and Anahi slowly get to know one another. Gradually, Ruben takes a shine to Jacinta, with her quiet, uncomplaining dignity and rare but radiant smile, and the unrelentingly cute, mostly very well-behaved Anahi. It turns out Ruben has a son of his own whom he’s barely seen, and a truckload’s worth of regrets for having lived such a solitary existence on the road for years. When strangers mistake the trio for a family traveling together, Ruben is at first annoyed and later somewhat take with the idea. Clearly, Jacinta feels similarly, though she doesn’t have much time for romance.

Perfs from the core cast are pitch-perfect, with experienced character actor De Silva and newcomer Duarte projecting everything auds need to know about their thoughts through exchanged glances, crisp dialogue and body language. Naturalistic but subtle camerawork by Diego Poleri underscores their growing familiarity by shifting by degrees from single-figure shots to two-person setups, literally bringing them together as a couple within the frame. With their matching Roman noses and strong profiles, they even start to resemble one another, as long-standing or well-matched couples often do. Meanwhile, magic-hour timing and the region’s strong light are cannily exploited to give Duarte a backlit halo around her curly hair, enhancing her natural but ordinary beauty.

Use of long takes, slow-tempo editing and lack of non-source music are par for the Latin American arthouse course.

Las acacias

Argentina-Spain

Production

An Airecine, Utopica Cine, Proyecto Experience production in association with Armonika Entertainment, Tarea Fina, Hibou Producciones, Travesia Producciones. (International sales: Urban, Montreuil-sous-Bois, France.) Produced by Veronica Cura, Ariel Rotter, Alex Zito, Pablo Giorgelli, Eduardo Carneros, Javier Ibarrexte, Esteban Ibarrexte. Executive producers, Veronica Cura, Ariel Rotter. Directed by Pablo Giorgelli. Screenplay, Giorgelli, Salvador Roselli.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Diego Poleri; editor, Maria Astrauskas; art director, Yamila Fontan; costume designers, Violetta Gauvray, Laura Donari; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Litmanovich; assistant director, Mariano Biasin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 13, 2011. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

German De Silva, Hebe Duarte, Nayra Calle Mamani.

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