August Evening

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Los Angeles Film Festival

As the Latino population of the U.S. grows and immigration continues to be a hot-button issue, we probably can expect to see more films like "August Evening," which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. This seems likely to stand as one of the most memorable films to dramatize the painful experiences of families trying to find their place in a not always hospitable land. It could find a sympathetic audience in the Spanish-speaking marketplace and, with some prudent editing, might cross over to discerning art house audiences, as well.

The story centers on a most unusual relationship -- that of an aging man, Jaime (Pedro Castaneda), and his young daughter-in-law, Lupe (Veronica Loren). Her husband died four years earlier, and father and daughter-in-law remain close, especially after Jaime's wife dies. When the aging Jaime loses his job because of age discrimination, he and Lupe are forced to leave their home. They travel to San Antonio to live first with Jaime's struggling son and then with his wealthier daughter, but they find themselves unwelcome in both households.

Does this story sound vaguely familiar? Eska seems to be attempting an ambitious Mexican-American variation on "King Lear," another tale of an aging patriarch seeking refuge but ultimately rejected by ungrateful children. As in Shakespeare's tragedy, it is the women in both households -- Jaime's suspicious daughter-in-law (Grisel Rodriguez) and upwardly mobile daughter (Sandra Rios) -- who order his eviction. These two women might not be quite as malevolent as Shakespeare's Goneril and Regan, but they aren't very sympathetic, either. Ironically, the Cordelia of the piece, Lupe, is not even a blood relative of Jaime's, but she is the most loving of his offspring, willing to sacrifice her own happiness to look after him.

A complication arises when Lupe meets a young butcher, Luis (Walter Perez), who wants to marry her. The chief obstacle to the romance is not so much her loyalty to her dead husband but her reluctance to change the dynamic of her close relationship with Jaime. Moments of humor flavor the slowly simmering romance, as in a delightful restaurant scene of Jaime's son and daughter-in-law prodding the resistant Lupe toward the eager Luis. But there are real emotional stakes in the romance that become more intense as the film continues.

The performances are first rate. Eska discovered Castaneda installing computer networks in San Antonio and was struck by his dignified presence. Castaneda rewards the director's trust with an unadorned, moving portrayal of a man torn between his need for his daughter-in-law and his desire to let her find a life of her own. Loren is wonderfully expressive, and Perez brings enormous charm to the role of Luis.

Cinematographer Yasu Tanida does a fine job depicting the desolate Texas landscapes. One dawn shot of the brand-new suburban housing development where Jaime's daughter resides captures the eerie sterility of the setting, and another scene when Lupe waits at a deserted truck stop for a phone call from Luis is equally haunting. This film combines perfectly honed, naturalistic acting and visual lyricism. The film's one major flaw is its excessive length. While the first part of the movie needs to be leisurely in order to make Lupe's gradual blossoming credible, the last third has too many false endings, which robs the finale of some of its impact. Still, within this somewhat distended 140-minute film is a beautiful two-hour movie just waiting to soar.

AUGUST EVENING
Doki-Doki Prods.
Credits:
Director-screenwriter: Chris Eska
Producers: Connie Hill, Jason Wehling
Director of photography: Yasu Tanida
Production designer: Elysia Edwards
Music: Jonathan Hughes
Editor: Chris Eska
Cast:
Jaime: Pedro Castaneda
Lupe: Veronica Loren
Victor: Abel Becerra
Luis: Walter Perez
Alice: Sandra Rios
Maria: Raquel Gavia
Andrea: Grisel Rodriguez
Salazar: Cesar Flores
Jason: Tom Spry
Gabe: Jeremy Becerra
Running time -- 140 minutes
No MPAA rating
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