Enjoying details of happenstance

Times Staff Writer

In Buenos Aires, a lonesome lump of a salesclerk named Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) starts another boring day of work and, after watching the world pass by the store’s open door, closes up shop, eats her dinner in front of the television and cries herself deeper into despair. The next day, two punk dolls -- a miniature matched set with close-cropped hair, no smiles and big stomping combat boots -- accost the clerk on the street. Do you want to have sex? asks one of the dolls, before introducing herself and her comrade in cold stares, “She is Lenin. We are lovers.”

Thus begins “Suddenly,” a droll, quixotic film about happenstance from Argentine director Diego Lerman that’s landed here after a yearlong tour of the international festival circuit. After the two women, Lenin (Veronica Hassan) and Mao (Carla Crespo), assault Marcia, they whisk the clerk off on an emphatically action-less adventure. Over fast-food meals and during hitchhiking sojourns, they collide against one another, reaching critical mass at the home of one of Lenin’s relatives, her wizened Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin). A cash-strapped citizen of a cash-strapped country, Blanca lives with two boarders, a painter, Delia (Maria Merlino), and an agonizingly shy biology student, Felipe (Marcos Ferrante). When Lenin asks if the three women can stay with Blanca, the old lady hesitates uncomfortably before blurting out a request for rent.

Written by Lerman and Maria Meira, “Suddenly” isn’t directly about Argentina’s economic crisis, but its consequences are omnipresent. Whether it’s the sight of a lingerie store without customers, the image of two old ladies carefully swapping food or a hungry dog biting the hand that feeds him, there’s a pervasive sense of unease. That casts a cloud over the story, but because Lerman plays the most serious exchanges with such well-timed deadpan humor the mood never darkens. When Marcia’s life takes a sudden turn, she flails about helplessly. She’s afraid of what’s happened to her, but somewhere inside she intuitively knows that there are worse things in life than fate tapping you for adventure. “Let the tide carry you,” one character says. And so Marcia does, all the way to self-renewal.

Built on small telling gestures and well-observed moments, and periodically rocked by a spasm of everyday weirdness, “Suddenly” works its charms slowly but steadily. Shot in shimmering black-and-white celluloid and under the spell of Jim Jarmusch -- in particular the earnest ennui and studied poses of “Stranger Than Paradise” -- this story about three women and the world they make is the sort of modestly scaled movie that feels like a gift. Hearts get broken (well, just a little dinged), and there’s plenty of churning emotion. But most of the ups and downs are played out quietly, with murmurs rather than shouts. One woman rolls some cigarettes and even smokes them (without filters!), and, at the end of it all -- after the sex, the sobs, the bolero and the broken eggs -- everyone goes boating.




MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult language, female nudity, some sexual activity.

Tatiana Saphir...Marcia

Carla Crespo...Mao

Veronica Hassan...Lenin

Beatriz Thibaudin...Blanca


Maria Merlino...Delia

A Lita Stantic Producciones and Nylon Cine production, released by Empire Pictures. Director Diego Lerman. Writers Diego Lerman, Maria Meira. Producers Sebastian Ariel, Nicolas Marinez Zemborain. Directors of photography Luciano Zito, Diego Del Piano. Sound Leandro de Loredo. Editors Benjamin Avila, Alberto Ponce. Art directors Mauro Doporto, Luciana Kohn. Score Juan Ignacio Bouscayrol. Camera operator Orlo Blandini. Costumes Constanza Pierpaoli. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

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