Girls Together Outrageously 

Argentine director Diego Lerman’s Suddenly deals with same-sex attraction without being a “lesbian film”

Argentine director Diego Lerman’s Suddenly deals with same-sex attraction without being a “lesbian film”

Suddenly

Dir.: Diego Lerman

NR, 90 min.

Showing 9:30 p.m. Sept. 13 as part of the Nashville Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

For info, visit www.belcourt.org

Argentine cinema’s current renaissance may not add up to a real New Wave. Some of its most widely heralded films, like Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga, have left me thinking that it’s largely a product of wishful thinking and hype. However, the Argentine films recently released in the U.S. are nothing if not diverse. Twenty-seven-year-old director Diego Lerman’s debut feature, Suddenly, bears little resemblance to any of them, but it has points of contact with numerous other movies. Maté drinking aside, it feels like it could possibly have been made in North America or Europe at any point in the past 40 years. Its punk attitude and ironic edge are au courant, but its look harks back to the French New Wave and Michelangelo Antonioni. To depict a sad moment, Lerman takes a cue from the ending of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, creating a montage of objects and empty spaces. Luciano Zito and Diego del Piano’s gritty black-and-white cinematography, which makes Buenos Aires and the surrounding countryside look beautiful without exactly prettifying, recalls Raoul Coutard’s work with Jean-Luc Godard.

Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) works at a lingerie shop. One day, she’s confronted on the street by two lesbians calling themselves Mao (Carla Crespo) and Lenin (Veronica Hassan). Mao comes on to her bluntly—her first words are “Do you want to fuck?” Marcia insists that she’s not a lesbian but seems somewhat interested anyway. Mao pulls a knife on her, forcing her to accompany them. They hijack a cab, which runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. At that point, they’re forced to hitchhike until they reach their destination: the house of Lenin’s aunt, Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin).

Suddenly deals with same-sex desire without exactly being a “lesbian film.” Even as she overbearingly comes on to Marcia, Mao also insists that she’s not a lesbian. For a North American viewer, the film’s distance from the identity politics and niche marketing that sometimes mar our gay films and TV shows is refreshing. The characters have little interest in defining themselves by their sexuality, but they’re open to any place their desires may take them. It’s equally refreshing that the chubby Marcia is treated as an object of desire. In an American film (even an independent one), an actress thinner than Saphir would surely have been cast, and she would never get a nude scene unless it was treated as a joke, à la Kathy Bates’ hot tub scene in About Schmidt.

Suddenly starts off like a lark, with Mao as a rather cartoonish anti-heroine. Marcia develops Stockholm Syndrome quickly. It’s obvious that she prefers this road trip, even if initially undertaken against her will, to the boredom and frustration of life behind the counter. Once Marcia, Mao and Lenin reach Blanca’s house, the tone of the film completely changes. Its initial air of menace dissipates. The relationships between the characters become complicated, with the introduction of a young man—the film’s only major male character—who comes between Mao and Marcia.

Practically every review I’ve read of Suddenly compares it to Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. The similarities are inescapable, the most pressing one being the two films’ similar aptitude for capturing the feeling of hanging out aimlessly. There’s not much of a narrative to the final half, but there are plenty of grace notes. Lerman emphasizes small moments of pleasure, like Veronica and Blanca discussing the merits of hand-rolled cigarettes while smoking together, or Mao enjoying ice cream outside. In another film, these might be throwaways. In Suddenly, this sensitivity to everyday life is its ultimate subject.

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