Argentinian writer-director Laura Citarella, part of the film collective El Pampero Cine responsible for such monumental work as La Flor, presented her third feature Trenque Lauquen at the 2022 Venice Film Festival to great acclaim. Divided into Part 1 and Part 2 with a total runtime of over four hours, it’s a shape-shifting tale of suspense, romance, and science fiction surrounding the disappearance of a woman played by co-writer Laura Paredes.

Ahead of its stateside release beginning at Film at Lincoln Center this Friday, we had the chance to speak with Citarella about the creation of this enchantingly unique film.

The Film Stage: Trenque Lauquen is an actual place in Argentina. What made you decide to set your film there?

Laura Citarella: I was thinking of making another film with Laura Paredes, with whom I made my first feature Ostende, which was also about a character who looks at the world and finds stories everywhere. We wanted to work together again, and the idea of working with the same character but in a different town came up. And I decided I wanted to do it in Trenque Lauquen, because that’s where my family’s from, I’ve been there many times, and love being there. When you make a film––especially the way my collaborators and I spend five, six, even ten years making a film––it helps to like being where you are. I also wanted to portray Trenque Lauquen because my Italian family came here at the beginning of the 20th century, so there’s a strong personal connection. 

And I also thought it’s a very good place to find mystery because it’s a small town in the Pampas with a local library, a lagoon… places where you can imagine mysteries happen. So I thought it would be the best place to complete the saga I started with Ostende

One thing I picked up watching the film is that, compared to an urban setting, there’s something less… decided about small towns that gives them more room for mystery.

There’s room for secrets. That was one of the main reasons to make the film there. And I also wanted to work with the rhythm of the place, with the people: non-professional actors who live there. So it’s like making a portrait of this town––but not in a way that’s common in Argentinian cinema, which tends to show cynicism in its portrayal of small-town life, as if observing the town from the city. In this case I wanted to avoid that, which is difficult because these places have their own rhythm, their own language. And you don’t want to come across like a sociologist studying a town, either. So it was a lot of work figuring out how to portray Trenque Lauquen. 

Like I said: I’m not a stranger to this town. But it was a risk for the character of Laura, who’s from the city. What I wanted to do is to find a balance: a way of looking with a distance because she’s not from there but, at the same time, showing empathy for this place.   

To me, something this film does so well is the way it shows every person is a mystery.  


When the two male characters, Rafael and Ezequiel, talk about Laura, they are constantly surprised by what the other is saying about someone they think they know. And when Rafael visits the town hall worker Normita at the end of Part 1, the Laura, in her words again, sounds like a completely different person.

Yes, that’s a beautiful idea. In an interview the other day I said the main theme of this film is mystery. And the idea of different versions of a person reminds me of the film Vagabond, by Agnès Varda, about a woman who is lost and dies. Many people talk about the woman in the film, and everybody is saying something different about her. I’ve always liked this idea that what a person or even an object is depends on who’s looking. In Trenquen Lauquen you can see that even the same book means something different to Rafael, Ezequiel, and to Laura. 

When my film Dog Lady was shown at New Directors/New Films a few years ago, I went to the United States and visited Concord, Massachusetts, where writers like Emerson and Thoreau used to live. I read some of their texts, and there was something very interesting they said about the nature: that you cannot define it but only describe aspects of it. This is an idea that I think is in all of my films: that nothing is ever reduced to just one thing. I think Trenque Lauquen is the best example of that. 

And the secret letters that Part 1 centers on might have been correspondence between two very ordinary people but, decades later, they became this source of incredible mystery and fascination to Laura and Ezequiel. 

Yes. Every person can be a secret, a mystery. And every life can be reconstructed through fiction. Laura found these letters––which are a mystery themselves––then she creates a story around these letters with Ezequiel. This story may be completely imagined, but it doesn’t matter: the point is fiction is in every part of life. This, for me, is one of the clues to this entire project, which includes Ostende, Trenque Lauquen, and––who knows––maybe another film. Films built around a character who is interested in finding mysteries. You have to be very connected to life to find the possibilities for mystery.    

Besides the central mystery of Laura’s disappearance, the film is full of puzzles, especially in Part 2, which features, among others, the character Elisa Esperanza and… a creature. Do you think the viewer needs to figure out all these puzzles to fully understand the film?

Mysteries are things we don’t understand. And I think it’s the most important tool to make films. The character of Elisa Esperanza is introduced at the beginning of the film through the radio program and the eyes of the entire town. But later you see her in her house being this pleasant pregnant woman, living with… a creature, and suddenly all your preconceptions about the character change. This kind of shift is, for me, a key to this film. It’s like a mutant. It’s a film that’s changing all the time. When you think you’re watching a thriller, you might find yourself in a romantic situation next. You think you’re in the middle of a detective story, then it turns sci-fi. This is the key to the structure of the film, a film that will not be just one thing.

Some viewers are willing to give in to the mystery and told me they find the experience hypnotic, while some––like the male characters Rafael and Ezequiel––just want to know what happened. In a sense they want to control the situation and bring Laura back. The film, at a certain point, chooses not to control its protagonist and simply opens itself up––to the images, to the landscapes, to the world. If someone doesn’t like that, we might lose them as our audience. But that’s O.K.

Like you said: this film is such a mix of genres. What was the writing process like? Did you set out to write it with a particular tone?  

We made the film over six years and finished it just ten days before the premiere in Venice. We shot the last scene with the diorama, the habitat of the creature, ten days before going to Venice.  

It’s an elaborate-looking diorama.

Yes. What we wanted to do with that scene is to give truth to the idea of the creature living there. That’s why we designed this system with water, plants, and everything: so that the audience would believe that these two women are women of science, that they know what they are doing. We built this place and had, like, a 24-hour day of shooting––because it was a difficult scene and we had to finish the film. 

And although we were there for 24 hours, we only did three or four takes, because we had learned how to make the film by then. When you apply for funds to make a film, they’d ask for your point of view––”how are you going to put the camera,” the mood boards, the style of acting, the sound and music etc. But from my experience, when you start to make a film, you usually don’t know anything about that film yet. You can have ideas, but you cannot know your film before making it. 

So of course I had a script and some ideas, but then making a film is also discovering it. That’s why I think we finally learned how to make Trenque Lauquen when we finished it. Those six years were part of a process where I had to try different things. For example: the actor playing Ezequiel is my husband. He’s not a professional actor, but the character was written for him. I was sure he could play this part but we had to work on it a lot. On the days of shooting we would try different ways of talking, try to discover this character while we were making the film, not beforehand. 

I had some ideas going in, of course. For example, I didn’t want big performances from the actors. Many things happen in the film; if the performances are big, too, it would be too much. So I knew I wanted a more naturalistic way of speaking and moving. But this was also part of the investigation which finally revealed the film. This is the way I approach filmmaking.   

That sounds like a very organic process. Did the script also evolve through time?

Usually when I’m on set to shoot a scene, I’d go with the text and nobody can change the words. I’m very strict about this. Of course Laura Paredes is a co-writer of the film. We always discussed on set if something is not working, maybe we could change something, but as a rule I don’t like improvisation. I think actors should say exactly what’s on the paper. But, of course, at the beginning of a six-year process we had a script that was more chronological and more classical. And when we started to shoot and edit we would ask, Why not move this part to the beginning? How about pushing that part over there?” In doing so, we rewrote the film. 

And then we would shoot some more, re-edit, and keep on going. So what we did was having an open process that’s quite different from traditional filmmaking where you write, shoot, edit, and post-produce. We are doing all the steps at the same time. This is the way we work, and because we are very independent we don’t have a boss or a producer who would tell us we can’t shoot anymore. I just take my camera, get my car, my actors, and we can go shooting. This makes things easy because you can re-structure the film when needed.        

On the topic of creative freedom, how is the filmmaking environment in Argentina these days?

It’s not good. From my perspective, what’s been happening is that, after the pandemic and the war, the funds in Europe are cutting off their support to countries in Latin America and focusing on their own filmmakers. Also, the local governments and institutions here––like the INCAA in Argentina––are increasingly closed-off. They are not helping filmmakers make their films. 

Our filmmaking collective El Pampero Cine is a small group and we’re like an island. We work in a very particular way and we’ve been making films like this for 20 years. We are independent and not trying to go mainstream. We still have the tools to continue making films because we’ve been doing this for a long time and have always had to deal with economic problems. On the other hand, you have mainstream films which are huge and supported by platforms like Amazon. So the big problem is what’s happening in the middle––because those are the films supported by the INCAA, the governments, the funds. This is something that’s also happening in Brazil and Chile: all these production possibilities are getting more and more precarious.

Trenque Lauquen opens on Friday, April 21 at Film at Lincoln Center and will expand.

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