Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Barren Lake

Mexican writer-director Fernando Eimbcke's 2004 feature film debut, Duck Season, won numerous film festival awards and made an impression on me personally. Eimbcke takes an unfortunate if not unusual route other filmmakers have traveled following a successful debut and gets self-indulgent with his follow-up, Lake Tahoe. It was just released this week on DVDby Film Movement.

More of a tone poem than a fully fleshed-out screenplay, Lake Tahoe follows a teenager, Juan (Diego Catano, who played one of the boys at the center of Duck Season), in the wake of his father's death. He runs his car into a phone pole outside a small, rural town and meets an assortment of odd locals in his pursuit of a part necessary to fix the car. In the process, he begins to deal with the grief that he, his younger brother and their mother are sharing.

That's about it. Apart from Juan's brother and a martial arts-loving townie, David (a fun performance by Juan Carlos Lara), most of the characters are ciphers we barely get to know. Similar to the dynamic between the boys in Duck Season, there is some potentially homosexual interest on the part of David toward Juan but it is only hinted at.


Plain irritating is the directorial and editorial style Eimbcke employs in Lake Tahoe. Thirty minutes of story is expanded to eighty minutes of film through long, lingering and generally pointless camera shots and lengthy black-screen interludes between shots. Eimbcke explains in the film's press notes his intention of making Juan appear small within his environs and illustrating our fleeting ability to comprehend current situations in the midst of loss via these techniques, but I don't think they work cinematically.

On the plus side, Eimbcke continues to develop his storytelling ability as well as a gift for working with young actors. I will look forward to his future efforts, which can only improve on this.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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