Though it runs a mere 78 minutes, The Desert Bride is strikingly languorous and open-ended, its graceful silences and unhurried rhythms speaking to the intriguing identity crisis of its protagonist. Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato's picture unfolds largely as an aesthetic experience — one in which the way the camera explores a space, or frames a face, is more important than words or actions in conveying the story's central drama. That makes for an occasionally challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.
The film follows Teresa (Paulina Garcia), a middle-aged woman who has spent most of her life as a live-in maid for an urbane, well-to-do Buenos Aires family. That family, however, is now selling its house, and Teresa, whose sense of self has been wrapped up in her work for all these years, is being politely but swiftly dismissed. Most of the story takes place in the desert, as Teresa, on her way to a new job in the distant town of San Juan, has become stranded. She wanders into the van of an eccentric traveling salesman named El Gringo (Claudio Rissi) and accidentally leaves her bag behind. El Gringo drives off with it, and Teresa embarks on a journey to find him. It's initially hard to figure out what to make of him, but he does seem more attentive to this woman -- this momentary acquaintance in the middle of nowhere -- than the people to whom she dedicated so much of her life ever were.
Atan and Pivato turn this simple tale into a lovely existential journey, one with a modesty of scale that betrays the profound nature of the ideas at play. The desert is spellbinding.