Las Acacias is in an almost perfect work of art. Within the confines it sets out for itself it seems flawless. The only problem is the limitations it places on its ambition.
The film is a road movie and anyone who’s ever been on a long bus journey, in South America or elsewhere, will quickly find themselves identifying with its languorous pace. Ruben, an Argentine truck driver, is taking Jacinta, a Paraguayan mother and her cute baby, Anahi from the border to Buenos Aires. Ruben is crotchety and lonely. He hasn’t seen his only son in many years. Gradually, as they make their way South, the mother and her charismatic baby melt his heart. Nothing remotely unpredictable happens. The movie resists any temptation to melodrama. On a couple of occasions there’s a hint that something bad might happen to Anahi, who gives one of the finest baby performances you’ll ever see. These moments throw out occasional flickers of dramatic tension, but the narrative quickly steers away from danger, gets back in the truck, and keeps on moving.
Everything is meticulously observed. Las Acacias is beautifully acted, understated and filmed with no little skill. Only in its very closing sequence does the thinness of the material really protrude, as the film aims for an unnecessarily upbeat ending. The movie has received considerable praise and featured on the lists of several of Sight and Sounds critics’ best films of the year.
However, it might perhaps be reasonable to ask whether being extremely skilful in the use of such a limited palette is really furthering the cause of Latin American filmmaking. For example: Jacinta is an economic migrant, presumably subject to some kind of stress which is making her take on this journey across the continent with her infant child. But the issues of Paraguayan society remain firmly ensconced in the back story. When she’s asked about Anahi’s father, she says the child doesn’t have one. Where do Ruben and Jacinta’s stories sit within the wider political framework of the continent? (And who, barring cinephiles is going to want to know?) In the end Las Acacias, in spite of its apparent down-to-earthness, almost has the feel of a Faberge Egg. Beautifully crafted but of marginal artistic or social relevance.