It is an impressive feat to create a film 260 minutes in length that never once wavers in energy or momentum—and that is exactly what Laura Citarella has done with Trenque Lauquen. Granted, her latest is split into two parts of equal length and will be released as such, but this curious mystery-drama-romance hybrid is engrossing enough to warrant a watch in one sitting. On paper, Trenque Lauquen's chapters (12 in total) might seem thinly connected, but Citarella ensures the relationship between each is strong. The result is a fascinating and alluring dramatic epic that never once outstays its welcome.
Taking place in the city of Trenque Lauquen within the province of Buenos Aires, Citarella's film is a sequel to Ostende (2011), which also featured Laura Paredes. In Trenque Lauquen, Paredes' Laura is absent; she isn't missing as such, but she has seemingly vanished into thin air. On the case are boyfriend Rafa (Rafael Spregelburd) and colleague Ezequiel (Ezequiel Pierri), who at first seems to simply be a sullen, straight-faced co-worker with little interest in her disappearance, before his deep investment slowly comes to light. Citarella and Paredes, who wrote the screenplay together, expertly navigate this mystery, with little details revealed and consistent nods to previous scenes.
We discover that Laura and Ezequiel developed an obsession with a story of two lovers that the former discovered from some library books. The two eras and the people in each swiftly become embroiled with one another, as Laura's fascination deepens. Characters from the present play people from the past, whilst the same music occurs in both timelines. The mystery develops in a totally unpredictable fashion, but more surprisingly, Trenque Lauquen is as swooningly romantic as it is startlingly cryptic. Citarella's film burns with a passion for romance, for discovery, for filmmaking, and for storytelling.
Despite the two timelines, Trenque Lauquen is never confusing. It is never out of reach, with its mystery elements always tangible and dangling within the viewer's range. Part One of Trenque Lauquen asks more questions than Part Two, but even in this final section, we are given few answers, or at least easy ones. Part Two is inevitably more heavy on exposition than its predecessor, which can feel a bit blundering, although the lengthy explanation of Laura's disappearance—told via a voice recording from Laura—is still hugely engrossing. Eventually, she becomes a story herself, a myth fading into history and morphing with time.
Everything in Trenque Lauquen slots together to create a captivating experience. Slow fades see characters and memories fade into another, whilst Paredes' enigmatic, engrossing central performance shines as brightly as any role this year. Perhaps most impressive is the aforementioned screenplay, a staggering writing feat that not only maintains interest for its full runtime, but also peels back layers in the most intricate way, revealing reflections on identity and self-worth. It revels in the monolithic nature of storytelling, honing in on the fluidity of identity, of being, and more widely of our mysterious world and universe.
Such is the ambiguity of Trenque Lauquen's storytelling, multiple viewings will be warranted, but that can only be a pleasure when it is this engrossing. Citarella's film is a riveting piece of cinema that plays with storytelling, form, and reality at will, always pushing the boundaries of each, and eventually forming into one of the great modern mysteries. It is otherworldly cinema, and as the animalistic, scientific and fantastical infuse into the everyday, this complex film becomes even more powerfully and woozily beguiling. It is enough to make your head swim with the infinite possibilities of storytelling.
Trenque Lauquen releases in UK cinemas on 8th December 2023.