Trenque Lauquen - Laura Citarella - NYFF
Credit: Laura Citarella
by Lawrence Garcia Featured Film

Trenque Lauquen — Laura Citarella

April 21, 2023

Unfolded in twelve chapters and split into two parts, Trenque Lauquen includes across its 250-minute runtime a story of a missing woman possibly gone mad, a strange incident at a lake which may or may not involve a human child, and a scientist’s search for a mysterious yellow flower. If that description brings to mind Mariano Llinás’ mammoth 2018 feature La Flor, this is no coincidence: Trenque Lauquen, Argentinean director Laura Citarella’s third feature, shares with that film not just its production outfit El Pampero Cine, but also two of the film’s leads, Laura Paredes and Elisa Carricajo. (Llinás also has a producer credit.) Granted, four hours is a ways off from fourteen, and instead of Llinás’ intentionally incomplete stories, Trenque Lauquen comprises elliptical fragments which do, finally, offer some semblance of unity. But it is characteristic of Citarella’s approach that many of the film’s chapters are told from the perspectives of different characters and vary wildly in tone. By the film’s end, these tonal disjunctions create the impression that we are not seeing subjective points of view within one and the same world, but rather a single, inexplicable event played out in different objective worlds.

The film begins, in any case, with the disappearance of a woman, Laura (Paredes), an academic from Buenos Aires currently doing a project on flower classification in the rural town of Trenque Lauquen. The opening chapter is meaningfully titled “La aventura” — though unlike the Antonioni film being referenced, we don’t have an initial sense of Laura from which to gauge her sudden disappearance, which we learn happens via stolen car. When Trenque Lauquen begins, she is already gone. Thus, all we can do is try and re-assemble her actions and personality from the fragmentary perspectives of the people who knew her. From Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd), her imperious, entitled boyfriend from Buenos Aires, we get a sense of her life in the city. From her former colleague “Chicho” Ezequiel (Ezequiel Pierri), a local of Trenque Lauquen, we get a more exciting sense of her life in the small town: such as her recurring program on a local radio show, titled “Women Who Made History.” In the present, we see Rafael and Chicho try to uncover clues as to her disappearance. But it’s the intrigue of a secret (and highly erotic) correspondence Laura uncovers in the local library — relayed in flashback from the perspective of Chicho, who willingly gets involved in Laura’s investigations — which drives much of the film’s plot. It also reflects, too, our primary interest in figuring out who Laura is and solving the mystery of her disappearance.

In the second half of Trenque Lauquen, tone and rhythm change significantly, and Citarella also starts to interrogate our established interest in Laura’s story. Even as the details of Laura’s abrupt departure are filled in, mainly through a lengthy recording she leaves Juliana (Juliana Muras), the host of the local radio show her “Women Who Made History” program is a part of, we are asked to reflect on why, exactly, we want to explain the mystery of her disappearance. Rafael has his reasons as a jilted, abandoned lover; and it turns out that Chicho, who falls for Laura in the course of their amateur sleuthing, has a similar one. But why, Citarella seems to ask, can’t we simply take an interest in the story for its own sake? Why look for someone who evidently doesn’t want to be found? When Juliana lets Chicho hear the recording Laura left behind, which fills in a lot of factual detail, but only makes her actions more inexplicable, he expresses uncertainty at what he should do with this information. Unfazed, Juliana simply responds, “There’s nothing we have to do.”

In all this, it is no coincidence that Trenque Lauquen’s second part gradually shifts perspective from male to female. Nor is it incidental that Laura’s radio segment is called what it is; that the book which triggers her investigation into the secret correspondence is titled “Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Woman”; or that Laura finds solace with two women (one of them played by Carricajo) in a stable domestic partnership. Taken together with the film’s first part, these details point to two distinct responses to the story being told: the first associated with Rafael and Chicho, who have a proprietary, almost possessive interest in the narrative outcome; the second associated with Juliana, who takes the story in stride, respecting Laura’s apparent desire not to be found. The film’s overall trajectory makes clear that Citarella is highlighting the limits of reducing the story to a kind of “answer,” instead of simply taking pleasure in its telling. What is less clear is whether she is also trying to map these responses onto specific stylistic or narrative forms. Trenque Lauquen’s final chapter (“Laura’s Part”), which sees any narrative interest completely drain away in favor of contemplative landscape shots and an atmosphere of quiet repose, suggests that she is, and this effort makes the film a frustratingly paradoxical experience. It turns Trenque Lauquen into a film whose intricate, shape-shifting storytelling ultimately resists the fulsome pleasures of story, a work whose narrative indirection serves, in the end, no other purpose but negation.

Published as part of NYFF 2022 — Dispatch 2.