Cinema has difficulty doing justice to a narrative, oftentimes just trying to keep its pants from falling down between acts 2 and 3 and sacrificing that clean, cause-and-effect logic which is deemed of importance to a coherent idea of storytelling. Enter El Pampero Cine, the Argentinian production house now 20 years into its existence, with a collective of artists united by their multivalent ideas about cinematic stories. Laura Citarella’s third feature Trenque Lauquen is the latest expression of the Pampero Cine party line, where the disappearance of a botanist named Laura interrogates our frothily subjective expectations of narrative and life.
260 minutes, 2 parts, and 12 chapters provide Citarella ample enough ground to traverse through the ever-expanding diegesis, and her primary pleasure is in shuffling the deck, shifting perspectives and teasing out bits of evidence with regards to the film’s central mystery. As context piles up, Citarella disperses preternatural elements into the film’s world, from a string of erotic love letters cosmically scattered within a series of used books to the bizarre appearance of some unclassifiable mutant found in the town’s lake. Citarella treats these elements as she does everything else; a direct, communicative mise en scène zeroing one’s attention into the proliferating details.
The poor saps searching for Laura are both in love with her and are afflicted with the same desire for a cogent answer as to why Laura would just run away from her life. The jilted boyfriend Rafael is the arch-pragmatist, directly moving from A to B in his search, while the po-faced local bumpkin Ezequiel conceals the possibly pertinent evidence of his and Laura’s obsessive pursuit of the truth within the erotic correspondences. Laura’s enigma is understood by the men in “two versions” as Rafael says, but Citarella posits their shared desire for closure as a gendered urge, the possessive male idea of love coupled with the desperate storyboarding of its oscillations. The second half comes from a female perspective, a direct address from Laura to her colleague Juliana. As Ezequiel listens in, increasingly confused, Juliana’s disposition is more understanding. She laughs at the absurd qualities but is uninterested in charting a series of meanings from Laura’s adventure, while Ezequiel can’t move past the idea that such a rich tapestry of “clues” implies a concrete means towards an end.
The final chapter changes the aspect ratio to something like cinemascope, the wider frames denoting the stark change in perspective as we tag along on Laura’s aimless wandering. The atmosphere is now contemplative, near-silent, and suffused with a sense of peace absent in the breathless yarn spinning of before. The tranquility asserts that the predominantly male impulse to cleanse the arbitrary nature of the world by narrativizing its rhizomatic branches can only lead to inner turmoil. Life cannot be rationalized as actions towards a climax, it is an open-ended, continuous movement, a falling action we cannot determine. Sure, there is a thrill in treasure-mapping one’s affairs, but, as Laura experiences, have you ever been to a bar in visible disrepair and witnessed a drunken old man do magic tricks?