Fernando Eimbcke’s new film focuses on the suburbs of an unnamed Mexican town. The minimalist cinematography progresses by eerily still shots of the deserted landscape, through which the young hero, Juan (Diego Catano) searches despondently for someone to fix his car; but it soon becomes clear that his impassive face covers a personal crisis worse than a busted carburettor. He befriends David (J. Carlos Lara), who injects some much-needed liveliness as a boy obsessed with Bruce Lee, but Juan, stalled between childhood and adulthood, is as unmoved by him as by teenage mother Lucia (Daniela Valentine) or the prickly, lonely bachelor Don Heber (Hector Herrera).
The film takes Juan’s coming-of-age as its subject; its Spanish dialogue is often brief, but Eimbke’s interest in the slapstick films of Buster Keaton results in some excellent visual gags, with Juan as the gloomy straight man while the rest lighten the tension. True to his low-budget principles, Eimbcke presents scenes like the opening car crash through sound only, without visuals; but these blank-screen interludes are often obscure. The town’s calm vistas, across which the camera won’t pan, at times seem to freeze like photographs; this can become wearying, as we wait for the plot to revive.
Lake Tahoe feels, and is, short, but the power of its story is hinted at tellingly. Though the care with which Eimbcke enumerates the daily lives of the townspeople can feel never-ending and bury the hero’s personal drama, the whole refreshes rather than lulls. When this film appears on general release in cinemas next year, I warmly recommend seeing it; but, if you originally planned to see Transformers II, maybe Lake Tahoe wouldn’t make the best Plan B.