Lake Tahoe (Eimbcke, 2008)

Lake Tahoe

The road movie is a staple of Western film, but rarely does one begin by destroying the hero’s means of transportation. Yet that’s what happens in Fernando Eimbcke’s Lake Tahoe. The film opens on a desert vista so bereft of motion it could be a still, a red car drives by in the background, and, in what will be a regular occurrence throughout the film, the screen cuts to black. Next we hear the familiar sound of breaking glass and bending metal, then we see that teenage driver, Juan (Diego Cataño) has wrapped his family’s car around a telephone pole.

Juan spends most of the rest of the film trying to get the car repaired, a quest which becomes his own personal odyssey as he encounters a series of strange local characters while ultimately revealing that’s there a great deal more to him and his life than we would have guessed from first impressions. Not surprisingly there’s an emotional odyssey which parallels the physical one, but saying more about it here might lessen the experience you will have while watching the movie.

Lake Tahoe is set not in the American resort but in a sleepy Yucatan harbor town where the pace of life is beyond relaxed: so little happens, so few words are spoken, and so few people seem to live there that you may begin to wonder if this town is located in some Mexican twilight zone. But it’s a welcome change from the frantic pace of many Hollywood pictures and I could feel knots dissolving from my spine as I settled in to Eimbcke’s leisurely world. There’s much to admire as well in the cinematography of Alexis Zabe who finds visual poetry in a part of Mexico far off the tourist track and makes excellent use of the widescreen (2.35:1) format. There’s no soundtrack and Eimbcke favors long takes with a still camera, two choices which help bring you further into the world of the characters.

Juan’s attempts to get the car fixed brings him in contact with, among others, an old man (Hector Herrera) who mistakes him for a burglar and threatens to call the cops on a phone connected to nothing but a dangling cord, a young mechanic (Juan Carlos Lara II) with a stingray bike who fancies himself a martial artist, and a music-loving young lady (Daniela Valentine) with a baby named Fidel who stops crying when Juan picks him up. In between Juan makes several trips to his home (this is apparently a very small town with everything within walking distance) which are enough to indicate that there’s more at stake than a broken car part.

I don’t want to spoil the effect of watching Lake Tahoe so I’ll just say that this film rewards the time you spend watching it: by the end it all makes sense and you even learn where the title comes from. If you’re looking for a small, calm movie that will take you into another world for a while (81 minutes, to be precise), I recommend giving Lake Tahoe a try. It’s available on DVD from Film Movement. Extras on the DVD include cast and crew biographies, the theatrical trailer and the short film Noodles by Jordan Feldman.

Sarah Boslaugh is a freelance writer and editor as well as an instructor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. She has four books in print (the most popular is Statistics in a Nutshell, published by O’Reilly) and is a regular contributor to playbackstl.com and popmatters.com.
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