Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Lake Tahoe


Actor Diego Cataño

Director Fernando Eimbcke

                                          Eimbcke with his actors

LAKE TAHOE          B+                                                                                                            Mexico  (81 mi)  2008  d Fernando Eimbcke

A gorgeously understated, quietly affecting film where each shot is masterfully composed by Alexis Zabé, who worked with Eimbcke on his earlier film Duck Season (Temporada de patos) (2004) and with Carlos Reygadas as well on SILENT LIGHT (2007), providing long, uninterrupted shots that are mesmerizing in their mix of urban detail and perfect composition, reminiscent of Chantal Ackerman with her poetic observation.  This amounts to a day in the life format, as we follow a single teenage character Juan (Diego Cataño) over the course of one day, and while the near wordless film has a storyline, most of it takes place offscreen, yet nothing is lost to the audience, as small yet meticulous details prevail, where we soon discover everything we need to know through brief verbal exchanges.  The characters are beautifully rendered, all with few words spoken, yet they are among the most original and masterfully drawn people we’ve seen in films recently, largely because of the their unique qualities which are shown with a striking attention to detail.  Opening in dead silence as the acting credits are listed, Juan soon drives his car into a pole on the outskirts of town, which is never shown, but only heard when the film fades to black (after every shot, Kaurismäki style) and we see the outcome afterwards in the next shot, which leads into the opening title sequence.  In the silence and near total emptiness of the morning, Juan walks through the small harbor town of Puerto Progreso in the Yucatán in Mexico looking for an auto repair shop.   After 3 or 4 are closed, he finally finds a lone young girl working the counter, Lucia (Daniela Valentine) who suggests they wait about ten minutes until the guy who knows where things are returns, David (Juan Carlos Lara), as she hasn’t a clue.  Fading to black about a half dozen times, both are reconfigured in the frame slightly differently each time as they sit on the front steps and wait what amounts to ten minutes Mexican time, which could be half the morning. 

The beauty of this film is the way Juan’s life interweaves between different characters, almost like a rite of passage, as no sooner does he meet these people, but he’s constantly leaving them as well.  He spends time with an old man (Hector Herrera) with an obvious affection for his big Marmaduke dog, who initially wants to call the cops thinking Juan is a thief, but after many failed attempts, he can’t seem to get his phone to work.  After hearing Juan describe his accident, he can guess what parts he needs to fix his car, and pours Juan a bowl of cereal along with one for himself.  When Juan indicates he’s already eaten, this giant hulk of a dog jumps up onto the chair and slurps the milk and cereal bowl clean that’s still sitting on the table without ever moving the bowl whatsoever, a charming and simply hilarious scene.  When the old man takes a nap afterwards, Juan leaves without a word in search of his missing part, which leads him to Lucia’s front steps waiting for David, who eventually shows up and asks Juan to hop onto his bicycle, as he’ll ride to the scene of the accident promising to have it running in about 5 minutes.  But when they get there, the missing part doesn’t fit, as they need an earlier version of the part, so they wander over to David’s house who insists he has the part but spends the entire time watching martial arts videos.  Juan escapes back to the old man for the missing part, but in return he asks Juan to walk his dog, as he’s getting too old to do it himself.  But once outside, that dog is a force and actually tugs Juan behind him for awhile before breaking free, disappearing into the emptiness of the barren neighborhoods. 

This time Juan wanders back to his own home which is in a state of emotional turmoil, as his kid brother is left alone playing in a tent in the front yard while his mother is inconsolable and wants to be left alone, so Juan wanders back to Lucia, who this time asks Juan to hold her baby while she smokes a cigarette and plays some loud rap music, even singing a rap song herself, asking Juan if he wouldn’t consider babysitting this evening so she could go to a concert.  David bikes him back over to his car, and while the new part fits, that’s not what’s wrong, it’s instead a part that’s connected to it.  Not to despair, David is soon working under a car parked on the street, which turns out to belong to Juan’s uncle, who, after asking about his mother and brother, offers him a baseball jersey and a bat.  Once they secure the part, they’re back to the scene of the crime and whoah, it works—Juan has wheels.  David is ecstatic and performs a few martial arts tricks, inviting Juan to a public screening later that night of Bruce Lee’s classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  Meanwhile Juan is back with his little brother, still playing alone, and gives him what turns out to be their dad’s baseball jersey.  When his little brother asks what the word condolences means, as people have been calling all day, we begin to put together a picture of why Juan is so downbeat and home is in a state of upheaval.  In this manner, Juan works through the unseen emotional baggage that he’s been carrying around with him, which isn’t really about the car at all, but larger internal issues of greater significance.  It’s curious that the film all but ignores the central drama, but finds superb secondary characters that seem to stick with Juan all day long, befriending him, giving him at least a brief reprieve from his grief.  Friendship is a wonderful thing, with total strangers or even within your own family, and by building a series of interconnected sequences of what appear to be random events, by the end they become magnified, evolving into something irresistably endearing, especially coming at a time when they’re needed the most—a wise and refreshingly mature work that without an ounce of sentimentality downplays the emotional payoff until it matters

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