Lake Tahoe

Mexico (2008) Dir. Fernando Eimbcke

In a sleepy Mexican town teenager Juan (Diego Cataño) crashes his car and needs to get it fixed. As a result he spends the day interacting with a cast of interesting characters.

Possibly the shortest synopsis I’ve ever written but as far as plots go that is pretty much it for this (very) laid back semi-autobiographical film from Fernando Eimbcke. There is obviously more to it than the above précis but the incredibly slow pacing will keep this hidden from most viewers. Those with superhuman patience and a love for the minimalist will “get it” and find a touching little tale among the beautifully shot but over-lingering images of this dusty little locale. Yes there is a reason why Juan was on the road and why the car needed to be fixed which further explains why his initially passive and almost emotionless mood has been suppressed until it reaches breaking point.

Juan’s first stop to getting the car fixed is at Don Heber’s (Hector Herrera), a lazy, tetchy old man with a big dog named Sica, who diagnoses the problem without seeing the car then lets Juan find the replacement piece and fix it himself. As Heber does have not the piece Juan goes elsewhere eventually arriving at a store manned by teenage mother Lucia (Daniela Valentine), a wannabe singer who thinks nothing of smoking and paying loud music around her baby Fidel, who only sleeps in Juan’s arms. Lucia can’t find the piece so she suggests they wait for the store mechanic David (Juan Carlos Lara II), a martial arts loving kid no older than Juan who conducts his business on bike. Other events of this long day include Juan taking Sica for a walk and losing him and an awkward breakfast with David’s pious mother (Olda López) during which Juan sneaks out of the house. Back at home Juan’s little brother Joaquin (Yemil Sefami) hides inside a tent in the garden while their mother (Mariana Elizondo) locks herself in the bathroom all day.

It all sounds manic and slightly Pythonesque when written out like that but the exact opposite is true. The laconic, almost soporific pace means we are treated to short bursts of dialogue and activity, with the most energetic sequence being Juan chasing after the liberated dog Sica. Everything else sees the cast moving as if time wasn’t a tangible concept or of any importance despite Juan’s pleas for haste – totally reflective of the apparent ghost town in which they inhabit. There is no palpable sense of drama until the final act when we learn the reason behind the plight of Juan’s family and even then it is over after a short burst, as though Eimbcke felt they needn’t dwell on it too much s what is done is done. This is ironic considering most of the shots of the town stay on screen for around ten seconds longer they need too after Juan or whoever has passed by.

If the protracted scenic shots, the various moments of painful silence and the continuous transitions of cutting to black where eliminated, this would be around 25 minutes long and thus an effective and more palatable short film. But I can only assume that Eimbcke felt the viewer should experience what Juan (and himself) did hence the film we have. There will be many cineastes (and pseuds) out there who will savour every deliberately drawn out second of this film and more power to them; I would say to anyone who can’t handle the pace to not feel intimidated by not “getting it”. It IS painfully slow and one does need to pick the bones out of the gristle to get to the edible material which is not to everyone’s taste.

Lake Tahoe is a frustrating film as it is a well made film which has something quite powerful to say but does so in a style which will appeal to a niche audience only.