Year of the Nail



AFI Fest

Esperanto Filmoj

Jonas Cuaron, son of filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, shows creative daring in his first feature.

An elegant formal experiment -- building a film entirely of still images -- gives rise to a warm, involving story in "Year of the Nail" (more poetically titled "Ano Una" in Spanish), a bittersweet time-capsule tale of a Mexican teen's infatuation with an American college student. The film recently screened at AFI Fest.

After amassing 8,000 pictures of family and friends over a yearlong period, Cuaron selected about a third of them and began constructing his script. The camera subjects provide the voice-over dialogue and thoughts of their characters (with the exception of Cuaron's grandfather, Salvador Elizondo, who died during the photography phase of the project and is voiced by actor Fernando Becerril).

Cuaron creates a sense of movement through successions of fixed-frame images of characters moving through space and, not least, through Martin Hernandez's evocative sound design. More interesting, he has successfully assembled a film backward, beginning not with the written word but with the image.

The strategy at first feels like a hindrance to storytelling but ends up being expressive. Divided into chapters defined by the seasons, "Nail" begins in black and white, adding color in the second section, Autumn. The color saturation deepens as the year progresses and feelings deepen between the two main characters.

Eirann Harper (the filmmaker's girlfriend and one of the film's producers) plays New York student Molly, who's in Mexico City for the summer to learn Spanish. Self-conscious about being "so white" but eager to explore her surroundings, she nonetheless lets her plans to photograph the city get pushed aside and spends most of her time with an unseen French boyfriend, the latest in a string of bad romantic choices. Returning over Thanksgiving in hopes of a more authentic experience, Molly rents a guest house from a divorced woman. Again forsaking her photography plans, she ends up spending much of her time with the 14-year-old son, who falls hard for her.

Diego Catano (the director's brother), who made a strong impression in the coming-of-age tale "Duck Season," brings an innocent vulnerability to the sex-obsessed virgin Diego. The film's title refers to a soccer injury that has left him with a troublesome ingrown toenail, a problem that isn't resolved until story's end, along with other growing pains.

In its brief running time, the film touches upon matters of youth and time, family, the relationship between tourism and traditional culture and photography itself. Amid the digital-picture snapping at his 70th birthday, Diego's grandfather can't understand the need to see images of something that just happened. "Nail" is a fresh exploration of photography's power to show us how things were.