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