BERLIN -- Using humor and understatement to tackle the big theme of a boy coming to terms with death and mourning, Fernando Eimbcke's carefully crafted "Lake Tahoe" hits many of the same marks as his well-liked debut "Duck Season" but with a little less verve. The talent is certainly there, but it will be mainly fest audiences who have the patience to admire the subtleties of this slow-moving, actionless Mexican film that is so reminiscent of new Argentine cinema.
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. Rather typically, the wry story is painstakingly set in a sleepy seaside town on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula but contains not a single shot of the ocean.
On a deserted road in the middle of nowhere, 16-year-old Juan (Diego Catano) absurdly crashes the family car into a lone telegraph pole. The rest of the film follows his search for spare parts and a mechanic able to fix the car.
Using an unmoving camera and an absolute minimum of dialogue and acting, Eimbcke doesn't leave his young cast much room to err. The film's deadpan humor arises from Juan playing the non-reacting straight man to the eccentric locals, who include a retired garageman and his bulldog, a punk teen mother and a young martial arts fan.
Only a third through the film is the first somber note heard, when Juan finds his mother locked in the bathroom and weeping inconsolably. Gradually, it becomes clear that a traumatic death in the family is being suffered, in silence and solitude, by Juan, his little brother and mother.
In the well-chosen young cast are Daniela Valentine as the teen mother and Juan Carlos Lara as a boy mechanic with a passion for Bruce Lee, both ably rendered comic characters. In the leading role, the appealing Catano has a face awash in restrained sensitivity and repressed emotion.
Veteran Yucatan stage actor Hector Herrera is a delight as the suspicious old garageman who gives Juan an important lesson about letting go.
Cinematographer Alexis Zabe's spare, carefully composed images, emphasized by a camera that never moves, and Mariana Rodriguez's editing deliberately on the edge of lethargy underline a frustrating sense of time that never seems to pass (in fact, it's breakfast time for the first hour of the film).
Director: Fernando Eimbcke
Screenwriters: Fernando Eimbcke, Paula Markovitch
Producer: Christian Valdelievre
Executive producer: Jaime Bernardo Ramos Montoya
Director of photography: Alexis Zabe
Production designer: Diana Quiroz
Costume designer: Mariana Watson
Editor: Mariana Rodriguez
Juan: Diego Catano
Don Heber: Hector Herrera
Lucia: Daniela Valentine
David: Juan Carlos Lara
Joaquin: Yemil Sefami
Running time -- 81 minutes
No MPAA rating