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NEW YORK – Mexican writer-director Fernando Eimbcke’s 2004 debut, Duck Season, was distinguished by its affectionate insight into the changeable moods of adolescence. His charming third feature, Club Sandwich, combines that same sensitivity with greater mellowness, depth and maturity, as well as a disciplined visual style and firm command of tone. Basically a chamber piece for three actors, the gentle comedy explores the shifting dynamic between a young single mother and her 15-year-old son when a potential girlfriend enters their insular world.
The central relationship in Eimbcke’s film is an exclusive club with two members. We meet 35-year-old Paloma (Maria Renee Prudencio) and her son Hector (Lucio Gimenez Cacho Goded) when they are far removed from her work environment and his school friends, during an off-season bargain break at a hotel by the coast. As they laze around by the pool or hang out in their drab twin room, their random bits of conversation and goofy games make them seem more like flirtatious best friends than mother and son. Eimbcke plays knowingly with this ambiguity.
Hector’s puberty blues are handled with a light touch that’s frank but delicate. “Are you listening to Prince?” he asks his mother, over the buzz of her earphones. “Why do you like him?” “He’s a great musician, and he’s sexy,” she replies. “Am I sexy?” asks Hector. “Sure, in your own way,” says Paloma. The ease and openness of their bond is sketched with lovely economy, both in the writing and in the unaffected performances.
When another family arrives at the otherwise empty hotel, Hector casually strikes up a friendship with a girl his age named Jazmin (Danae Reynaud). She’s there with her ailing father (Leonel Tinajero) and his second wife (Carolina Politi), a warmth-free zone who doubles as the old man’s nurse. It’s Jazmin, not Hector, who takes the initiative in his sexual awakening, passing matter-of-factly from applying lotion to his sunburn to investigating what’s going on in his shorts. Reynaud walks an amusing line between polite formality and cool self-possession, and her sexy dance during a game of dare is a gem.
What makes this familiar coming-of-age material captivating is that it becomes less about furtively horny Hector than about Paloma’s painful first steps toward letting go. While being outwardly friendly toward the girl and a responsible parent to Hector, she reacts with mixed feelings of jealousy, neediness and fear to the intrusion into their closed circle.
There are no explosive conflicts, only some quiet tears and the subtlest displays of rebellion. But the poignant sense of one chapter ending as a new one begins, in which Paloma’s role will be more marginalized, is conveyed with bittersweet emotional acuity. While it’s never explicitly stated, the suggestion is clear that her close relationship with her son has been Paloma’s excuse not to address her own loneliness.
This is a modestly scaled film, but a refreshing one, laced with unforced humor. Eimbcke’s observational style is dry and detached yet perceptive, channeled through the limpid gaze of Maria Secco’s fixed camera. The Hockney-esque composed shots of the hotel swimming pool are used with particular effectiveness, and the lethargic rhythms of Mariana Rodriguez’s editing are essential to the movie’s general restraint. There’s not a false note in the performances, from the internalized work of the two young leads to the more expressive countenance of Prudencio’s Paloma, herself not so far removed from adolescence in her tender vulnerability.
Venue: New York Film Festival (Emerging Artists; also in Toronto, San Sebastian festivals)
Cast: Maria Renee Prudencio, Lucio Gimenez Cacho Goded, Danae Reynaud, Leonel Tinajero, Carolina Politi, Enrique Arreola
Production company: Cinepantera
Director-screenwriter: Fernando Eimbcke
Producers: Christian Valdelievre, Jaime B. Ramos
Director of photography: Maria Secco
Production designer: Eugenio Caballero
Editor: Mariana Rodriguez
Costume designer: Andrea Manuel
Sales: Funny Balloons
No rating, 82 minutes
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