Pablo Trapero's Rolling Family Los matés salvajes By Grégory Valens

in 22th Guadalajara Film Festival

by Grégory Valens

It is the out-of-shot that one notices at first, and then the silence. As one enters the Buenos Aires apartment of Emilia, the wise grandmother, one does not know for sure whether one is watching a fiction or a documentary. Suddenly a tango starts, which is very unusual in the work of the director of Mundo Grùa and El Bonaerense, who is not really keen on referring to the musical traditions of past generations. As the tango accompanies the film’s opening, it is clear that the third feature film by Pablo Trapero will have many qualities: the expression of movement and the quest for a lost tradition, intimately bound; a light tone to treat serious and melancholic themes; an entrance into that culture of which he has become, already, one of the most subtle painters.

The editing alternates between brief shots in which the characters walk through each angle of their apartment, and warm-hearted sequences such as the family dinner, in which the camera envelops the characters. The movement is in each shot, and it is an affectionate movement, consistent with the dedication of the film to the director’s own family. The movement will therefore become the raison d’être of the film and of the characters: as her niece is getting married in Misiones, the grandmother asks the whole family to travel with her on a 1500 km journey in the old camping-car. The road movie can start.

Trapero explores new places in a stunning contrast to the closed environment of his previous films (the claustrophobic – although open-aired – building sites of Mundo Grùa, or the police station in El Bonaerense, a so-called shelter against the outdoors which was actually the siege of corruption). Even if he shoots a lot outdoors, the family travels in such a confined space that the tensions are multiplied and sensuality is encouraged. In film after film, Trapero (like Lucrecia Martel) seems to take pleasure in representing closeness, as it were the metaphor of a country forcing human beings to live with one another, whether it be out of custom or out of solidarity, because of personal tastes or led by the survival instinct. Rolling Family is somehow the tale of a liberation, as its heroine leaves the confined space she occupied in the capital to reach a universe made up of nature, space and therefore freedom.

But Rolling Family is also a wonderful portrait of everyday Argentinean life, a life consisting of compromises and genuine pleasures. Trapero respects the narrative codes of the road movie (brief encounters and small incidents mark the journey), but he focuses on a naturalistic study of which he has become, in three films only, a master. Rolling Family is in fact very consistent with his previous work, and those who think that this is just a light parenthesis in a realistic oeuvre may want to give it a second look. The attention given to the decor and every costume, as well as the realistic approach to each of the places the caravan passes by, compose a brilliant radiography of the provinces before the economic crisis. Never before had Trapero insisted that much on his country’s cultural identity and its roots, from the use of the tango (even with modern variations on well-known pieces) to the remarkable sequences in which gauchos fill the road and the frame. A master in the use of alternate editing when he follows several actions simultaneously that lead to one conclusion (how the journey forces a family to get to know each other), or in the direction of crowd scenes (the wonderful banquet sequence reminiscent of the policemen’s dinner in his previous film), he also risks being a poet: the night shots of the rolling caravan, accompanied by contemporary music, are simply magnificent.

Pablo Trapero succeeds in portraying a group, giving the same attention to every character: each of them brings another dimension to the tale of the joys and frustrations of mixed generations. Rolling Family is certainly his most optimistic film, but it is also the moving and melancholic tale of the twilight of a life. At the end of the film, the grandmother decides to stay in her native city. The fact that she is played by the filmmaker’s actual grandmother is an anecdote, but quite a moving one. When, in the last shot, one contemplates the face of a woman who has reached the final steps of her life, the film measures the importance of the journey she has just accomplished. During her trip, she remembered her past, she communicated with her children and her grandchildren more than in many years, she relived whole sequences of her childhood and her adolescence, sometimes by proxy, like when she realized her grandchildren were discovering love, or when she had to suffer her children’s disputes. She reached the end of a recapitulative journey, which brought her to her origins, far from her restrained life, freed from the conventions of a life that was not really hers. Wiser. Happier. With a bold spirit that deserves our most sincere esteem, Pablo Trapero gave us his own variation on Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. His teacher? A proud Argentinean woman who attended the school of life.