February 9, 2008

Berlinale. Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe I haven't seen Duck Season, Fernando Eimbcke's lauded first feature, so I don't know if it looks like something Jim Jarmusch might have made early in his career if he'd headed south of the border and shaken off his aversion to very bright light. Lake Tahoe sure does, though.

Frankly, for the first ten minutes or so, it's a little irritating. Static wide-angle shots of a nearly empty landscape on the Yucatan peninsula are interrupted by thick swaths of black leader. We hear a car thunk into a pole, for example, but don't see it. You may start thinking: I don't mind this insistence on slowing things down, but give me something to look at for the duration. But you'll also likely find your impatience dissipating soon enough.

With his Nissan sedan jammed into that pole, Juan (Diego Cataño) walks into town. Shot: A road way outside of town. Juan (we don't know his name yet; to us, he's still just a young man, probably in his late teens) enters the frame on the right. He walks through... and out to the left. Tone's set.

But then he gets into town. He needs his car fixed. His deadpan odyssey begins. We meet a set of amusing characters, none of whom, mercifully, are the least bit quirky - it's not that the danger might not have been present; the film was developed at the Sundance Institute, after all. Gradually, we learn that something heavy and dark has befallen Juan's family. We begin to suspect that the car crash was not an accident - not a suicide attempt by any means; just a kid's helpless lashing out at the world. We begin to develop sympathies; put a crying baby in Juan's arms and that baby's crying will subside. That's the sort of fellow Juan is.

Even as the vague tragedy that immediately precedes the story begins to take on weight and form, Lake Tahoe itself seems to grow lighter and more engaging, all at the same time. Juan keeps revisiting the characters we've met during his first rounds, not that he means to. His needs necessitate these returns. The one-on-ones are the bulk of the film; seeing three or more people in the same frame is an extreme rarity. And yes, by the end, he'll have learned that each of these people has got something for him - and vice versa. But by the time this sinks in, Juan and his new friends will have long since won you over.

"An understandable choice for Berlin competition, the film has a striking simplicity and stylistic rigor that should win it awards from passionate admirers of the minimalist genre while keeping larger audiences at bay," predicts Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

"[B]y the end what began as an exercise in Latin American deadpan comedy a la 25 Watts has developed a firm emotional grip," writes Lee Marshall in Screen Daily.

Russell Edwards, writing in Variety, disagrees: "A lazy exercise in cute minimalist humour, low-budget but visually glossy Mexican film Lake Tahoe is so dry and slight that it threatens to drift right off the screen."

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Posted by dwhudson at February 9, 2008 2:16 PM


Duck Season looks like that, only in B&W. It's pretty awesome.

Posted by: vadim at February 9, 2008 6:20 PM

I loved Duck Season when it screened at the SF International a year or so back. Most of the audience did too. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Posted by: Maya at February 10, 2008 1:01 AM

I take it the title location is referenced symbolically?

I enjoyed Duck Season greatly, even if there were moments there, too, were it got a bit too minimalist for my attention span. But look forward to this one, too.

Posted by: Craig P at February 10, 2008 8:40 AM

Thanks for the report on this one. Duck Season was one of my ten favorite films of 2005, making Lake Tahoe one of my most anticipated films for 2008.

Posted by: Michael Hawley at February 10, 2008 9:43 AM

I agree with the comments above. Duck Season made my top 10 for 2006 (I placed it next to producer Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth). I wish more people had gotten the chance to see it. The debt to Jarmusch is clear--and Eimbcke thanks him in the credits--but so is the debt to Ozu (many scenes transpire at a "tatami-mat" level). It plays like a Mexican version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off as the under-age characters have all day--but no money--to do whatever they want, and their creativity is inexhaustible.

Posted by: Kathy Fennessy at February 10, 2008 9:55 AM

"...painstakingly set in a sleepy seaside town on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula but contains not a single shot of the ocean."

I lived for the better part of my life at about 20 minutes road-wise from Puerto Progreso, where the film is set, and I can assure you that, if the ocean is not shown, it's because, honestly, aesthetically speaking, the beaches in the area are, and I'm being kind here, an acquired taste.
Plus, I would hazard it probably also has to do with the fact that, on the whole, mexicans are kind of tired of seeing beaches in our movies. There's sort of this unspoken short-hand that if a beach shows up, it's probably not a very good movie at all.
(In all fairness, most of the blame goes to the never-ending parade of commercials set in resorts and the like)

It's worth noting that it's also tiresome seeing Mexico City in a certain light since Duck Season, although set in the capital, with the exception of a couple shots, never ventures outside one of the main character's apartment.

Incidentally, I'm kind of flummoxed at the fact that no one can help compare Duck Season with Jarmusch when, really, it has far more in common with The Breakfast Club! Think about it.

Posted by: Anhedionisiac at February 10, 2008 10:41 AM

Your third paragraph seems to say it all about this film. As a fan of Duck Season; can't wait to see this one!

Posted by: Karsten at February 10, 2008 11:09 AM

I can't wait to see this, Eimbcke is such a promising filmmaker... Duck Season was pure fresh air to Mexican cinema... glad to have him back!

Posted by: Carlos Reyes at February 10, 2008 3:38 PM

I'm fascinated by the emergence of these Jarmuschian/Kaurismakian riffs from Latin America over the last several years. Besides DUCK SEASON and LAKE TAHOE from Mexico, we've seen WHISKY and 25 WATTS from Uruguay, MAGIC GLOVES and SILVIA PRIETO from Argentina, and surely others I'm missing. Latin American filmmakers certainly aren't the only ones aping this style right now (Begium alone has given us L'ICEBERG, AALTRA, and AVIDA, and there are Eugene Green's films in France and Azazel Jacobs's in the U.S.) but I wonder what has prompted the recent string of highly formal poker-faced comedies from this part of the world. It's almost a bona fide movement. Deadpan lives!

Posted by: wells at February 11, 2008 1:50 PM

I think from a personal point of view, that Eimbcke has lost the "latin grip" for which succesful filmakers such as Reygadas or Stoll and Rebolla have nurtured for the past years. Fernando made a wonderful debut with "Duck Season", but after watching "Lake Tahoe" in Berlin (rejected by Cannes and Sundance), all those static-mega-long shots are utilised without emotion, well composed but not truthfull to the story. Just plain and shallowy shots. I wished to see more, but the film dose not give, it's simply dry.

Posted by: Beth at February 11, 2008 3:08 PM

Lake Tahoe was not rejected by either Cannes or Sundance. It wasn't ready for Sundance, and Berlin assured Eimbcke a slot in the official competition, something Cannes never does until they actually announce their lineup.

Posted by: Ulloa at February 12, 2008 8:26 AM

Lake Tahoe was actually invited to sundance since it was cooked in its talent campus. It wasnt ready on time for that. I hope it come out of Berlin with the big price

Posted by: john at February 15, 2008 12:50 PM