Dir: Diego Lerman. Argentina. 2002. 94 mins.

Further proof of the astonishing range and vigour of the current Argentine cinema is offered by Suddenly (Tan De Repente), a captivating, simple yet subtle road movie about a lonely shop girl whose world is transformed when she is abducted by two punk lesbians. This bittersweet, femme-oriented comedy has immediate appeal to younger indie and gay audiences as well as to aficionados of Latin American film, but it also transcends its tiny budget and niche subject sufficiently to contain limited cross-over potential. Following its prize-winning world premiere in April at the Buenos Aires Independent Cinema Festival, Suddenly was a popular and critical favourite last month in Locarno, where it netted the Silver Leopard and a well-deserved Special Mention for its lively, almost all-female ensemble cast.

Flach Pyramide, which picked the film up at Locarno, has already sold Switzerland (Filmcoopi) and Canada (Les Films Seville) and is likely to give it a strong push when it plays in the Discovery sidebar at Toronto next week.

The humorous but compassionate opening scenes briskly sketch in the dreary routine of Marcia (Tatiana Saphir), a frumpy lingerie salesgirl who lives alone in Buenos Aires after having been dumped by her boyfriend and dreams rather forlornly of finding romance. This comes calling in an utterly unexpected fashion when two feisty leather-jacketed, crop-haired woman calling themselves Mao and Lenin (Carla Crespo and Veronica Hassan) accost her in the street. The capricious Mao declares her love for the half-horrified, half-fascinated girl and kidnaps her at knife-point, highjacking a taxi and making for the coast where Marcia claps eye on the sea for the first time in her life.

Several adventures later, the trio ends up at the ramshackle house of Lenin's Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin), a spry old bird who is as unconventional as her niece, despite her advanced years, and rents out rooms to two lodgers. The remainder of the film follows these six characters in search of love and happiness, as Mao finally seduces Marcia (who enjoys the experience), then abandons her, the taciturn Lenin bonds with her aunt and her eccentric friends, relationships form and re-form and personalities reveal themselves in surprising ways after a death upsets the group's equilibrium.

The writer-director, Diego Lerman, developed Suddenly, his feature debut, from his own earlier short film, La Prueba (The Proof), itself based on a short story by Cesar Aira. It's a featherweight piece, but one which never feels overextended, thanks to the enormously attractive performances and the director's lightness of touch.

Lerman (now working on a new project for Cannes' Cinefondation programme) states that he wants to "exalt contradiction relentlessly" and, beneath its casual, freewheeling veneer, Suddenly continually invites the viewer to reassess rich and complex characters whose destinies unfold with the unpredictability of real life. The deadpan, comic-melancholy tone and shimmering black-and-white photography are redolent of Jim Jarmusch's early work and the film ends on a gently upbeat note while avoiding any trace of glib sentimental uplift.

Prod co: Lita Stantic Producciones, Nylon Cine
Int'l sales:
Flach Pyramide
Exec prod:
Lita Stantic
Lerman, Maria Meira, loosely based on the short story La Prueba by Cesar Aira
Luciano Zito, Diego del Piano
Prod des:
Mauro Doporto, Luciana Kohn
Benjamin Avila, Alberto Ponce
Juan Ignacio Bouscayrol
Main cast:
Tatiana Saphir, Carla Crespo, Veronica Hassan, Beatriz Thibaudin, Maria Merlino, Marcos Ferrante