"Lake Tahoe": Movie Review (2009)

11/28/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"Lake Tahoe"

Directed by Fernando Eimbcke, written by Eimbcke and Paula Markovich, 89 minutes.

By our guest blogger, Kicia Sears

The opening sequence of “Lake Tahoe” sets the tone for the rest of the film with its simple soundtrack and slow cutting between static shots. Unlike many independent films of its genre, it doesn’t try too hard to pound out a message. It places the responsibility for understanding the film in the audience’s hands as it leads the observer through a day with Juan (Diego Catano, excellent in the role), which emphasizes both the mundanity and the oddity of everyday life.

The plot follows Juan--a teenage boy who crashed his car into a pole--as he tries to get the car fixed before his mother finds out. He first meets Don Heber (Hector Herrera), a reclusive old man whose only companion is a dog. Don tries to help him fix his car but doesn’t have the right part to do so. Next, Juan meets Lucia (Daniela Valentine), a young mother who works in an auto shop along with David (Juan Carlos Lara II), a kung fu obsessed teenage mechanic. Amid the antics involved in finding and replacing the car part, we are given glimpses into Juan’s home life. There, Juan’s interactions with his younger brother Joaquin and his mother allude to a recent family tragedy. The film balances the seriousness of the family’s situation with the bizarre and obscure happenings of a day in Juan’s life in ways in which neither overshadows the other.

The cinematography is striking. Many scenes consist of a lovely static shot that, for a moment, seems like a photograph. While the camera lingers, characters come into a scene and leave it, which posits Juan and company as the intruders in the shot. This helps to communicate the feeling of being in a foreign country and/or not in control of one’s surroundings, which is similar to what Juan feels in the film. Cinematographer Alexis Zabe also chooses to cut to black in an effort to show the passage of time, which is funny in some scenes, but which becomes a little tedious, as does the repetition of the static shot.

For the most part, the shots are beautifully framed--the audience is allowed to let their eyes wander to notice details. In the scene in which David’s mother is lecturing Juan over the breakfast table, David’s passivity in the left side of the shot is hilariously juxtaposed with Juan’s uneasiness. Unlike other movies, being able to simultaneously communicate different perspectives in a scene is something done well here.

Though it is difficult to analyze a script through subtitles since translation can complicate the interpretation of dialogue, the plot overall is touching and poignant. Watching Joaquin and the boys’ mother need Juan grounds the story and makes Juan’s actions seem at once selfish and understandable.

The movie's only real disappointment is the disclosure of what its title refers to (it won’t be revealed here.) Also, instead of offering something deeper, the use of a Wellesian “Rosebud” symbol doesn't reinforce the movie so much as it takes some of its power away from it. Though the point of using an arbitrary symbol may have been to reiterate the randomness of life, what could have been a clean, tight climax ends up being a disappointment.

That said, Yemil Sefani is endearing as Joaquin, and the David and Don Heber characters give an almost "Napoleon Dynamite" feel to a film that leaves its audience wanting to know more about Juan and his family.

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