Piedra Sola (Lonely Road) - International Film Festival Rotterdam review

★★★★

Directed by #AlejandroTelémacoTarraf

Starring #RicardoFidelTolaba

Film review by Nathanial Eker


An affective, almost entirely visual experience, Piedra Sola respectfully captures the essence of rural Argentina in an intense cinematic detail. Crafting a part drama, part documentary, debut feature director Alejandro Telémaco Tarraf forgoes traditional narrative devices in favour of painting a cultural tableau; a moving portrait of a humble culture inextricably tied to Mother Nature.


Fidel is a llama farmer in The Hamlet of Condor, in Puna. He and his son journey miles to sell meat and fur, to keep their endearingly simplistic livelihoods afloat. However, when Fidel discovers that a predator has been slaughtering his herd, he considers the best course of action, eventually deciding that as per custom, an offering must be made.


More concerned with shedding light on a lesser known civilisation than creating drama, Tarraf creates a film that would be almost identical, dialogue free. Very few lines are spoken, and those that are exist to teach detailed ritualistic traditions. As an insight into a real people (essentially playing scripted versions of themselves), it’s a fascinating documentation that will inevitably broaden horizons and incite debate.


Wholly rejecting a notion of cause and effect, the initial conflict of man versus predator loses focus, as it becomes clear that pure societal insight is the goal of this visually exciting filmmaker. Tarraf and his cinematographer master the wide shot, crafting organically realised tableaus that shimmer against the beauty of the natural light. Each shot swims across the screen; living portraits with more detail across one frame than a thousand words could speak.


The human players, in contrast to their magnificent surroundings, are characterised by close ups and POV shots, showing in excruciating detail the extent of their daily plight. With each lengthy step taken, each mountain endured, each rainstorm avoided, we unequivocally comprehend their struggle without need for words.


The only questions lay in the opening sequence. For ten minutes, a beautiful white stallion struggles across the mountain top, its front legs bound by man-made rope. Is it symbolic of Fidel’s struggle to maintain harmony with Pachamama? A comment on man’s tendency to bind nature for our own gain? Or, perhaps it’s allegorical of Fidel’s literal uphill battle for order. Only Tarraf has the answer.


Piedra Sola is a visceral experience from start to finish. More documentary than docu-drama, Tarraf revels in taking his time, lingering on details that make the sensational cinematography even bolder and more impactful. Though it sounds idolatrous to suggest, the film can at times err on the dull side, though striking moments of unmissable scenery and ambient sound make it an hour and a half worth relishing.



#NathanialEker #IFFR #IFFR2020