A pair of glowering Buenos Aires dykes kidnap a dumpy, depressed lingerie salesgirl at knifepoint, hijack a taxi, and . . . take her to the beach? Things only get sweeter and more surprising from there in first-timer Diego Lerman’s black-and-white road movie, Suddenly, a humane, unassumingly quirky rumination on chance and caprice. Happenstance impels the plot, but this is no diagram of karmic destiny or butterfly-effect interconnection (and Audrey Tautou is nowhere to be seen). Instead, the film, true to its title, blows along its unpredictable course like a tumbleweed, generously accommodating its characters’ unrulier impulses, adhering to no narrative laws or higher order save a secular faith in the arbitrary.
The opening scenes cultivate a somewhat misleading air of menace: A pierced, jackbooted, soft-butch duo, the inexplicably named Mao (Carla Crespo) and Lenin (Véronica Hassan), stroll along city streets in an aloof sulk. Meanwhile, Marcia (Tatiana Saphir), still moping over an ex-boyfriend, flounders in a dismaying routine of boring workdays and lonely nights. Catching sight of Marcia through an arcade window one morning, Mao runs after her and cuts to the chase: “Do you want to fuck?” No blushing flower and not one for small talk, Mao goes on to flatly profess her love (Lenin, lingering a few paces back, dryly notes that she could learn to love Marcia too), and while their target is aghast and fearful, she’s also flattered by the attention—and vaguely excited by the almost magical possibility of escape from her dreary existence.
Once Suddenly leaves the city behind, the girls—and Lerman—are essentially making it up as they go along. Marcia has never seen the beach, so Mao and Lenin, taking their cue from Y Tu Mamá También, surprise her with a stop at the ocean—proof, Mao declares, of her love. After their stolen taxi breaks down, they hitchhike, eventually ending up in the riverside town of Rosario, where Lenin dimly remembers having an aunt. The aged Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudín), who herself barely remembers her niece, has a couple of lodgers living with her: shy biology student Felipe (Marcos Ferrante) and soft-spoken teacher Delia (María Merlino). Once Lerman has maneuvered these six, very different individuals into each other’s orbits, he spends the rest of the film performing a sort of benevolent physics experiment, assembling them in various permutations, bouncing one character off another like pinballs, or charged particles in a collision chamber—establishing, dissolving, and re-establishing relationships until a new equilibrium is attained.
Only 26 when he made Suddenly, Lerman is part of the youthful boom in low-budget filmmaking that has coincided with Argentina’s spectacular economic bust (Pablo Trapero, Lucrecia Martel, and Adrián Caetano have all had hits on the festival circuit, along with small theatrical runs in New York). Economical yet lackadaisical, Suddenly—with its crisp monochrome grain and deadpan oddballs-in-transit scenario—unavoidably suggests Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (and also Kaurismäki’s Take Care of My Scarf, Tatiana). Some of its loveliest moments are wordless: Lenin and Blanca gazing at each other while enveloped in a fog of cigarette smoke, Felipe curiously tailing Mao as she shoplifts, a boating trip that ends with a rapt close-up of Blanca’s remarkable, weathered face. Deceptively slender, Suddenly is a supremely generous working example of the horoscope prescription that Marcia receives early on—to live “with such dynamism that each day turns in unexpected ways.”