ROLLING FAMILY (Pablo Trapero, 2004)

Familia rodante, one of the most brilliant films of the new century, finds Argentinean writer-director Pablo Trapero (Mundo grúa, 1999; Leonera, 2008) invisibly along for the ride on a family trip in a camper van. Four generations cram the van, ranging from an infant to Emilia, the infant’s 84-year-old great-grandmother. At her birthday celebration in a rural part of Buenos Aires, her sister telephones from Misiones, inviting her to a family wedding in her hometown. This sets up the trip, with the entire Buenos Aires part of the family participating at Emilia’s command, but Trapero’s virtually plotless film homes in on the transport, with a payoff at the end that is both emotionally sweeping and witheringly ironical. Trapero captures a rhythm of life and a bounty of familial disappointment—the predictability/unpredictability of life. In his early thirties, Trapero has created a masterpiece, richly deserving the prizes he won for it: best director, Gijón; prize of the international film critics, Guadalajara.
     What then does Trapero give us in lieu of plot? Various activities along the way, including washing a family dog, the preparation of a meal, work on the vehicle after it breaks down, and so forth. One soul’s dental emergency accounts for a necessary detour; where at night is everyone going to sleep? We are also given, pressured by the vehicle’s mechanical problems, eruptions of ancient quarrels, and of old and new romantic realignments, one of which, igniting jealousy, sends a trip member into ignominious exile. Emilia herself, once the Buenos-Aires crowd makes it to Misiones, sees again an old boyfriend whose name she no longer quite recalls.
     Trapero’s fiction, then, gravitates toward a dramatically heightened documentary-style presentation. At its center is a touching performance by a nonprofessional: Graciana Chironi as Emilia (best actress, Gijón).

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