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JapanFocus
Lake Tahoe
Directed by Fernando Eimbcke (2008)
Howard Schumann (howard16)     Print Article 
Published 2010-01-27 10:50 (KST)   
Howard Schumann rates "Lake Tahoe" an A-.  <Editor's Note>
In Fernando Eimbcke's minimalist Lake Tahoe, family members shut off emotional expression to avoid coming to grips with a devastating loss. Teenager Juan (Diego Catano) wraps his Nissan car around a pole, then spends most of the film reaching out to others to help him fix his car, masking his need for emotional connection; Joaquin (Yemil Sefani), the younger sibling hides in a tent while the boys' mother (Mariana Elizondo) remains for long hours in the bathtub without communicating. It is only late in the film that we find out the reason for this emotional turmoil.

Nominated for the Golden Bear Award and winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival as well as several honors at the Mexican Academy Awards, Lake Tahoe is set in Chicxulub, near Progreso, Yucatan, the area where a devastating asteroid was alleged to have hit the earth 65 million years ago. Shot with mostly wide-angle static shots and filled with natural light, Lake Tahoe captures the lazy mood of a town with its vast empty spaces, sparse vegetation, and low flat-roofed buildings. The film takes its name from a bumper sticker on the family car from an Aunt who visited the famous California resort some years ago and whose meaning is revealed later in the film.

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The film is quiet and moves very slowly with an undercurrent of sadness, though it is not without tension and its arc is unpredictable. Interrupted periodically with blank screens (reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger in Paradise"), the dark screens seemingly provide the characters with time to pause and reflect. After Juan crashes his red Nissan, he spends most of the day trying to find a part to get the car running again and, in the process, must deal with a variety of eccentric townspeople. His first contact, the elderly Don Heber (Hector Herrera), a retired mechanic, hasn't seen the car but confidently tells him he needs a new distributor harness.

Heber takes his time, telling Juan to look for the part himself as he takes care of his dog Sica, feeding him breakfast from the kitchen table while the bewildered Juan looks on unamused. Juan also must contend with Lucia (Daniela Valentine), a clerk at an auto repair shop as they wait together silently for hours for Lucia's colleague, David (Juan Carlos Lara II) to show up. Lucia is a single mother, perhaps only a few years older than Juan, who must care for an infant boy that Juan seems to know how to get to go to sleep. Lucia wants him to listen to her music and tries to get him to babysit her small child but Juan almost always says no before agreeing to anything. David turns out to be a Kung Fu expert and a devotee of the martial arts and a source of comic relief throughout the film.

He invites Juan to the cinema to see "Enter the Dragon", a martial arts movie and then tries to engage him in a kicking contest while Juan stands there passively until David shouts at him in true Bruce Lee tones that he needs emotional content, not anger. When Juan goes home, he finds his little brother Joaquin playing in a tent in the yard while his mother hides in the bathtub, telling everyone to leave her alone. "What's 'condolences'?" Joaquin asks his older brother. He says that "people have been calling all day, and when I answer, everyone says... accept their condolences."

Though only 81 minutes long, "Lake Tahoe" feels organic and not written, capturing the real emotions of people who seem unable to communicate their grief. One telling scene is when Lucia and Juan fall into each other's arms and Juan begins to cry, the only emotion he has shown throughout the film, other than hitting his car with a baseball bat. Diego Catana is excellent as Juan who appears in every scene and carries the film with an honest and effortless performance. Like "Broken Wings", an Israeli film from 2002 with a similar theme, "Lake Tahoe" transcends the limitations of time and place to become a universal exploration of loss and how people respond to it. In Eimbcke's skillful hands, its sadness is relieved by the strength and dignity of its characters and balanced with a dry, deadpan humor that would be the envy of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.
This article has not appeared in any other news medium but has been submitted to Cinescene (www.cinescene.com)
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Howard Schumann

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