The unpredictable mystery being called ‘best film of 2023’


Citarella's film is like a chill epic that unfolds over four-plus hours, neatly divided into two roughly two-hour segments. Produced by the same mastermind behind Mariano Llinás's colossal 13-and-a-half-hour spectacle, La Flor, Trenque Lauquen – named after a city in Buenos Aires province – feels like a cinematic haiku compared to its marathon counterpart. However, make no mistake – it's a sprawling puzzle, a mystery without a roadmap, a meandering shaggy dog story with hints of Borges and AS Byatt’s Possession. Citarella throws in dashes of Lynch and even David Robert Mitchell’s divisive noir Under the Silver Lake. Despite its laid-back charm, there's an elusive quality that kept me from fully embracing it, perhaps due to its leapfrogging between strange tales post-intermission.

Trenque Lauquen picks up where Citarella's earlier creation, Ostende (2011), left off. Laura Paredes takes center stage as Laura, a botanist doubling as a periodic radio broadcaster on women’s history – no fancy podcasts here, just good old-fashioned radio waves. Laura mysteriously vanishes from the titular city, prompting two men to embark on a quest to find her. One is her tightly-wound academic boyfriend Rafa (played by Rafael Spregelburd), and the other is the stoic, poker-faced Chicho (Ezequiel Pierri), who collaborated with Laura on her enigmatic project. Rafa, with good reason, suspects a love affair between Laura and Chicho. The audience witnesses snippets of their affair in a not-so-linear narrative, adding a dramatic present-tense twist. Rafa’s mission extends beyond locating Laura – he's on a truth-finding expedition regarding her potential infidelity.

Laura stumbles upon a love letter concealed in a library book, setting off a chain of events. Unearthing more letters unravels a clandestine affair between a local teacher and a married man, heightened by the woman's disappearance after becoming pregnant. Could Laura's fixation on this affair have triggered her own unraveling, plunging her down a conceptual rabbit hole in search of the truth about this woman's soul and her own?

The film's second act takes a supernatural turn with the discovery of a peculiar feral being – a wild child or creature – found in the lake that lends the town its name. Laura's eerie encounter with the mysterious doctor overseeing the situation adds a spectral layer, with Laura dubbing her a "spectre." Pregnant herself, the doctor might be a reincarnation of the woman from the love affair.

Despite its extended runtime, the film leaves both storylines dangling without a fully gratifying resolution. Yet, as Citarella's camera trails Laura on her unexplained sojourn into the wilderness, there's an enthralling quality to the expansiveness of her filmmaking language, the composed refusal to neatly tie up loose ends. Cult status seems destined for this enigmatic cinematic creation.

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