Winner of the Best First Feature at Cannes last year and a highlight of New Directors/New Films this past spring, Pablo Giorgelli's minimalist, gentle road movie traverses 900 miles, from Asunción, Paraguay — where terse, middle-aged truck driver Rubén (Germán de Silva) picks up Jacinta (Hebe Duarte) and her 5-month-old baby girl, Anahí — to Buenos Aires, where the unmarried mother hopes to start anew. Although confined mainly to the cab of Rubén's vehicle, Las Acacias is generous and expansive, subtly registering how these three strangers eventually become at ease with and grow attached to one another. Even with its initial long stretches of silence, the film never feels clinical or cold, but rather compassionate and curious.
Coscripting with Salvador Roselli, Giorgelli opens Las Acacias with an anomalous blast of noise: the whir of chain saws cutting down the timber that Rubén will haul. The long-distance trucker is first glimpsed as merely a flannel-shirted arm hanging out of the driver's window, a cigarette dangling from two fingers. Picking up his passengers — an arrangement coordinated by a man Rubén works for — he offers little assistance to Jacinta, balancing her infant and four large duffel bags. The action of the film's first third consists mainly of Rubén taking sips of maté and swigging water and Anahí's ever-shifting facial expressions. (The delightful dumpling in the pale-pink onesie is played by Nayra Calle Mamani, a Cabbage Patch doll come to life with an incredible mop of thick black hair.)
Despite the quiet in the cab, save for Anahí's babbling and occasional fussing, this trio is exceptional company, with first-time performer Duarte as loose and charismatic as stage-and-screen veteran de Silva. As detours and pit stops are made — at a roadside café where Jacinta warms up her baby's bottle; at the home of Rubén's sister, where he drops off a birthday present two months late; at a lake at dusk where a dog ambles up to the trio — the trucker's reserve begins to crumble. Feeling slightly emboldened, Jacinta, after some glove-compartment snooping, delicately asks Rubén about his past, a Q&A that solidifies their tenuous intimacy and one of many deft scenes in which backstory details never overwhelm the present or smother it in easy sentimentality.
"I'm in no hurry," Jacinta assures Rubén at one point; though never languorous, neither is this lovely film. Watching this taciturn man grow close to mother and child — close enough that he experiences twinges of jealousy and abandonment toward the end of Las Acacias — is one of the most satisfying spectacles in a movie this year, a time-lapse of emotions rendered perfectly.