By Pablo Gamba

The Trees (2017) is the first documentary long feature by Mariano Luque, and thus, it figures in the competition of feature films of Cinéma du Réel. But in a strict sense, this is the third film of this duration of the Argentinian filmmaker, who is one of the most prominent figures of the province of Córdoba, together with Rosendo Ruiz –born in San Juan-, Santiago Loza and Matías Lucchesi, among others. Luque was in the festivals of Berlin and San Sebastian with Salsipuedes (2011) –and its short version in Cannes Cinéfondation-; with Another Mother (2017) he participated in Rotterdam, and with both in BAFICI.

The filmmaker continues to work in documentary a subject of his fiction films: the family relations, from marriage and maternity to kinship. In this case, this happens through an investigation of the bonds of biological heritage. The observation of his mother, and a group of uncles and cousins the filmmaker knew belatedly. They all are part of his grandfather extensive family, who was called Macías. He had 17 children with two different marriages –mostly women- whose ages ranged from 14 to 70 years when he died. Some of the uncles of Luque are younger than him.

The most striking thing of this family documentary is the point of view. The filmmaker expresses himself in first person, but through texts in screen. The spectator, reading them, listens to his own mental voice, not the voice of the director, like it happens frequently in this genre of films. Although he gives some data about the life of his grandfather, Luque doesn’t tell a story about his relation or the relationship between his mother, him and the rest of the characters. And unlike this other commonplace, the family representation is not conformed as the parents find their place in a story. The search for distancing includes the identification of the kids and grandkids of Macías with the place that corresponds to them in the order of birth. The mother then, is the eight sibling.

The grandfather was an owner of a field at the foot of the Pan de Azúcar hill, in the “Sierras Chicas” of Córdoba, where he devoted himself to cultivate a great diversity of species of trees and plants. When dying, his last will was to be buried under a cedar, so the roots, when growing, embraced the urn. His kids and grandkids reunite themselves around the cedar, take care of it and pet it, as if Macías is still alive inside of it. The visits to the woods he created, called “The Silence” turn to be an optimal opportunity to observe how the life of a person extends beyond death, in his offspring and work.

There’s a motive that underlines the analogy between trees, kids, and grandkids: the creeks that run through the forests, like the blood in the extensive offspring of Macías. But through a careful observation of the characters in the family, one cannot only perceive the similarities, but also the differences that make each of them unique –and thus, diverse, like the forest planted by him-. The film stands out for its approach to parenthood as a mystery of nature that isn’t explained.

There’s a conflict in the montage too, between what gives the film cohesion and centrifugal forces that tense it. In the beginning, for example, the subjective shots of the one who travels in car to reunite with his family, under the rain, follows a sequence that show how the creeks in the woods come together to form even wider canals .But then, an enigmatic shot that unravels the analogy is shown: the empty table of a coffee shop in the street. Another example is the part of a video recorded by someone who isn’t from the family, whose justification is no other than to show “El Silencio” in a different way, under the snow, and with other texture and format. But that in itself creates a rupture in the documentary. Beyond parenthood, The Trees is also a film about the general question of nexus, like the ones among the shots.

Directing, cinematography and editing: Mariano Luque
Production: Julia Rotondi, Mariano Luque
Sound: Julia Rotondi, Guido Deniro, Pedro Lombrdi Suzzi, Roberto Migone
61 mins
Argentina, 2017