“THE DESERT BRIDE”
Fifty-four-year-old Teresa (Paulina Garcia) has worked for decades as a maid in Buenos Aires. When her job abruptly ends, she has no choice but to take a job in the distant town of San Juan. Even though she is not much of a traveler, she finds herself on a journey through the desert. At her first stop, in the land of the miraculous “Saint Correa”, she loses her bag with all her belongings. This leads her to crossing paths with El Gringo (Claudio Rissi), a traveling salesman who helps her to discover the romantic world she long left behind.
Teresa’s journey is symbolic and is from self-pity to self-esteem. Flashbacks reveal Teresa’s anodyne behavior over the years while caring for a wealthy family that was always good to her but her but now they do not the money to keep her employed. In the present, El Gringo offers Teresa the comfort of a guided tour and he feels affection for her, giving her small gifts and leading her up a rocky trail for a better view of the mountainside. Their scenes inside his van show us that he is a man searching for a human connection, that the winding Argentinean roads alone cannot afford. Aside from telling a little white lie that keeps Teresa in tow, El Gringo has no ulterior motives or violent intent. He, like all the characters in the film is basically kind.
Directed by Cecilia Atan and Varelia Pivato, this is a road movie story that aims toward simplistic and rather formulaic romantic wish fulfillment. There are some visually beautiful camera shots but its main attraction is Garcia’s performance. She plays a 50-something Argentinean maid in the midst of a life transition. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Teresa has worked for the same family for 30 years, but as they’re selling their house and no longer able to afford her, they have arranged for her to go work for relatives of theirs in the city of San Juan in the semi-desert region of western Argentina.
When her bus breaks down on the way to San Juan, Teresa and other passengers are stranded at a pilgrimage site dedicated to La Difunta Correa, a legendary woman who has the status of an unofficial saint who died while crossing the desert. Those who discovered her body found that her baby was suckling on her breast, which is how she became known as a worker of miracles. While killing time on her unexpected layover, Teresa meets a garrulous tradesman nicknamed El Gringo. When he leaves, she realizes he must have taken her bag, which contains all of her belongings. Though she doesn’t suspect theft or trickery, she knows she must track him down.
It takes some time, but when she finds him, he says her bag isn’t in the van; he must’ve left it at one of the places where he’s deposited other goods he carries. The two begin a mini-odyssey during which the maid and El Gringo get to know each other, and an attraction develops.
The film has many small touches of grace and intelligence and even though the story is something of a cliché, Garcia’s sharp, distinctive work makes the trip a memorable one nonetheless.