Lake Tahoe Dir. Fernando Eimbcke

[Film Movement/Cine Pantera; 2009]

On the wall of a terminally bland apartment hangs a lifeless, nondescript portrait of ducks on a pond. The significance of this disposable piece of hotel art is eventually revealed, becoming one of the many perverse pleasures of Duck Season, the surprisingly enchanting debut from emerging Mexican auteur Fernando Eimbcke. Setting forth perhaps one of the most mundane scenarios in recent cinematic history -- two teenage boys play video games while they wait for pizza -- Duck Season gradually evolved into a deceptively sharp, thoroughly winning piece of deadpan minimalism that earned much-deserved comparisons to the work of early Jim Jarmusch.

Lake Tahoe, Eimbcke's follow-up feature, is set not in its titular location, but rather in a village on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It's a place known to the rest of the world as the site of the dino-defuncting meteorite, contributing to an atmosphere that feels distinctly humid with loss, in spite of its general placidity. At the outset of this hazy dreamscape of a film, our teenage protagonist Juan appears to have suffered a relatively harmless car accident, running his shiny red Nissan into a post sans injury. Juan quests for help and possibly a replacement part, encountering various quirky strangers whose role in assistance shape-shifts over the course of the day. We eventually learn the true significance of Juan's accident and subsequent quest (as well as, yes, the elusive title), but the grand revelations avoid undermining the relaxed, contemplative nature that precedes the denouement.

The half-remembered, oneiric quality of Lake Tahoe partially derives from a repeated stylistic motif Eimbcke has now employed in both of his films: every scene, however minor, is punctuated by a fade to black. This device was less noticeable in the black-and-white Duck Season, the visual style of which was already so banal one would scarcely even notice. However, Tahoe is shot vividly in color, and the tacky yet pungent images evoke a postcard-resonant air of nostalgia that nicely befits the suburban coming-of-age model narrative. Here, the fades exist to indicate that this trip down memory lane has a few gaps in its recall, but it's never too long before it's regained.

In addition to the frequent use of blackouts, a general aura of "nothingness" permeates the film, from its economic use of narrative and dialogue to its brief running time. However, Lake Tahoe is a film strictly about aura, and anyone who grooves to Eimbcke's ineffable cosmic wavelength will reap the considerable pleasures of this beautifully understated picture.

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