Over the last two years or so, Latin American cinema has been hauled back to the spotlight from a period of obscurity on the strength of run-away successes like City of God (Brazil) and Amores Perros (Mexico). Brazilian maverick/director, Walter Carvalho, continues to lead the Latin American renaissance and recently released another success, The Motorcyle Diaries. The resurgence of such films has prompted the media to hail a new wave of Latin American cinema in a bid to create the idea of a movement.
But is there such a thing as a movement when people are working in isolated production cells, in a vast and culturally diverse continent? Media-baptised movements really need to be taken with a pinch of salt (and in the case of Latin America, make that a spoonful), although it’s true that digital technology and economical changes have reignited production in that part of the world, which had been dormant in the early 1990s.
Suddenly, an Argentinean down-tempo and quirky existential comedy, is an unusual addition to the roster of Latin American films in the sense that it doesn’t address any issues that are specifically pertinent to that country: it could have been made anywhere. It’s more Jim Jarmusch than Che Guevara. It probably won’t get as much press as hyped up films coming from the Salles factory, especially because it’s also a gay-themed movie. It doesn’t fit in any preconception of a Latin American ‘movement’, that is, the ‘new wave of Latin American cinema’ brand. But don’t get turned off by the apparent humbleness of Diego Lerman’s black-and-white offering: as far as realism and lack of pretence goes, Suddenly is a gem.
The protagonist of the film is Marcia, a plump shop assistant in Buenos Aires recently dumped by her boyfriend and whose life seems to be as humdrum as it can get. The set-up of the film, which introduces us to Marcia, is constructed with some straightforward, dialogue-free sequences that are redolent of the French New Wave.
Action starts when Marcia is walking in the street one morning and is accosted by two punky lesbians (Lenin and Mao). Mao tells Marcia she’s in love with her, much to the latter’s bewilderment and the viewer’s amusement. As the frightened Marcia refuses to yield and asks to be left alone, the girls pull out a knife and kidnap her. They hijack a cab and hit the road towards the coast. When they run of petrol, they have to hitchhike their way to Lenin’s aunt’s house, which she shares with another woman and a male student.
Marcia warms up to Mao’s sexual advances and has sex with her, only to be rejected by her immediately afterwards. Resentful of what she sees as a betrayal, she finds friendly solace Lenin, whose narrative role is to act as the consciousness of the film, dropping a priceless line here and there with deadpan wit.
Suddenly then revolves around this long-weekend when an unlikely bunch of people spends together. We watch them go on a boat trip, prepare food together and engage in other domestic activities. It follows a string-of-beads type of narrative, made of normal/strange moments which are always fun and well-observed. The whole ensemble delivers an easy, naturalist performance that fits in perfectly with the film’s casual pace. But unlike similar experiments that come across as self-indulgence, Suddenly is a pleasure to watch.