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cinemadaily | Not Of This World: Fernando Eimbcke’s “Lake Tahoe”

cinemadaily | Not Of This World: Fernando Eimbcke's "Lake Tahoe"

“The director calls his style ‘artisan cinema’; I just call it dreamy.” So says the New York Times’ Jeanette Catsoulis about Fernando Eimbcke’s Lake Tahoe which opens today at Anthology Film Archives in New York. Catsoulis describes the film as “so different from the usual fare that it might have arrived from another galaxy.”

A synopsis of the film, courtesy of Film Movement: “Teenage Juan crashes his family’s car into a telegraph pole on the outskirts of town, and then scours the streets searching for someone to help him fix it. His quest will bring him to Don Heber, an old paranoid mechanic whose only companion is Sica, his almost human boxer dog; to Lucía, a young mother who is convinced that her real place in life is as a lead singer in a punk band, and to ‘The One who Knows’, a teenage mechanic obsessed with martial arts and Kung Fu philosophy. The absurd and bewildering worlds of these characters drag Juan into a one day journey in which he will come to accept what he was escaping from in the first place–an event both as natural and inexplicable as a loved one’s death.”

“Coming down from the Saturday sugar rush of his 2006 comedy Duck Season, Mexican auteur Fernando Eimbcke’s lovely, Yucatán-set dramedy drifts by on a similar deadpan wave of static vignettes and lingering pauses that must be 10 months pregnant,” writes Aaron Hillis for the Village Voice. “Eimbcke’s droll rhythms are reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismäki—here stylistically appropriate for a film about social and emotional inertia.”

Cinematical’s Jeffrey M. Anderson also makes note of the similarities to Jarmusch’s work. “When Mexican-born Fernando Eimbcke made his directorial debut with the wonderful ‘Duck Season’ (2004 — released here in 2006), he immediately earned comparisons to Jim Jarmusch with his black-and-white cinematography, deadpan humor, and a distinct lack of forward momentum in the plot. He probably won’t shake that comparison with his second feature, the full-color ‘Lake Tahoe,’ but it doesn’t matter. This film is equally wonderful, and besides, how many good Jarmusch imitators are there?”

Fernando F. Croce, writing for Slant Magazine, again on the similarities to Jarmusch: “The shadow of Jim Jarmusch can still be detected in the director’s fondness for lavish time-wasting, blackout edits, and stone-faced gags, but at its best, Eimbcke’s feeling for dry, quotidian radiance also displays some of the moment-by-moment freshness of early Kiarostami (‘Where Is the Friend’s Home’ in particular)… Eimbcke has an undeniable gift for deftly doleful wavelengths, where slight events accumulate meaning on the road into adulthood. By continuing to hit the same minor key of adolescent wistfulness, however, he suggests that he may have some artistic maturation of his own to still go through.”

Channel 4’s Ali Catterall observes: “To say ‘Lake Tahoe’ won’t be to everybody’s tastes is to understate the case. Fernando Eimbcke’s self-described ‘road movie without a car’ may even drive some audiences to the kind of seat-ripping behaviour not seen since the era of the Teddy boys. The language of Latin American cinema often seems beamed in from another planet entirely, with a style quite distinct from much of Western filmmaking. As with the director’s similarly economical, calm and leisurely ‘Duck Season,’ this is a slow, very, very slow and near-plotless drama, that may alienate many audiences on first showing, but definitely reward repeat viewings.”

Michael Koresky of Reverse Shot also comments on Eimbcke’s distinctive visual style.”There’s no doubt that with this film, Eimbcke has confirmed himself as a masterful practitioner of the artfully composed long take—there’s a truly graceful arrangement of Don Heber napping in a hammock, bathed in a hazy burst of sunlight, his dog reposing underneath, and later a lovely, almost Tsai Ming-liang–worthy nighttime image in which Juan’s car pulls away from the front of his house to reveal a silhouetted Joaquin in an illuminated tent in the yard just beyond the gate—but ‘Lake Tahoe’ also proves his approach to melancholy is more humane than aesthetically trendy. There’s a beating heart beneath this still life.”

One of the more negative reviews of the film comes care of Variety’s Russell Edwards. “A lazy exercise in cute minimalist humor, low-budget but visually glossy Mexican film ‘Lake Tahoe is so dry and slight that it threatens to drift right off the screen… Encounters with aging mechanic Don Heber (Hector Herrara) and his dog supply mild laughs, as do young mother Lucia (Daniela Valentine) and martial-arts fanatic David (Juan Carlos Lara), who run an auto parts store. But the overall narrative is as immobile as Juan’s stalled car.”

Like Edwards, Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail also applies the word “slight” to the film, but in a positive sense. “The adjective ‘slight’ is usually used as a pejorative when talking about movies. In the case of ‘Lake Tahoe,’ until the film’s closing scene, I would have used that term and meant it as an unabashed compliment. Yet in that final encounter between Juan (Diego Catano) and his little brother the following morning, Eimbcke justifies the title and ends the picture on a perfectly bittersweet note. At that moment, ‘Lake Tahoe’ feels anything but slight.”

Filmmaker Magazine has an interview with Eimbcke in which he addresses the frequent comparisons to Jarmusch and discusses his other influences. “I fell in love with the simplicity and complexity of Jarmusch’s films, particularly with ‘Stranger Than Paradise.’ Thanks to Jarmsuch and Kaurismäki, who also is a big influence, I discovered Ozu. And Ozu’s work influenced and will continue to influence a lot of filmmakers. Ozu is the Master.”

Little White Lies and Ion Cinema also have interviews with Eimbcke.

Watch the trailer for “Lake Tahoe” on YouTube.

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