One of Fernando Eimbcke’s earlier feature films, Lake Tahoe, almost disappeared from mainstream cinema alongside some better known films that came out that same year on the international stage (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace, Indiana Jones: the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).
That is something very unfortunate, because Lake Tahoe, at the very least, is a stark contrast to all these big budget commercial works in that it is truly a work of art.
Despite what many might argue is an excruciatingly slow, somewhat motionless film, I believe that that is exactly where Lake Tahoe’s strength lies. Right from the very first, lengthy, action-free still that opens the film, Mr Eimbcke’s intention is pretty loud and clear.
As I can recall off-hand while I pen this review, the entire film is shot more like a series of carefully thought, beautifully composed photographs with a single moving subject right up to the point where the camera starts rolling in a dolly alongside Diego Cataño’s disturbed teen on his way to a mechanic’s.
The film literally begins with a bang. Juan has hit his car onto a light pole. And for every passing moment then on, we give ourselves to Mr Eimbcke’s patient story-telling. One mechanic shop to another; one person to another.
EVERY FRAME ACTS LIKE A PLAYGROUND LETTING [EIMBCKE’S] ACTORS BECOME PAWNS IN THE DIRECTOR’S INVESTIGATION OF LIFE.
Back home, our protagonist, Juan’s, mother is depressed, having locked herself in the bathroom. Joaquin, Juan’s younger brother, in his tent, is perhaps most oblivious to their father’s passing if his scrapbook right at the end is no indication.
Every incident in this story of life itself is designed to teach Juan something about his on-going attempt to face his father’s death. At first he refuses, tries to get away, but that is not an option, and he learns that very gently, almost as if only Mr Eimbcke’s wide shots could.
The film starts by feeling more like a series of photographs interspersed with long black screens during which the viewer is left to visualise the film the way they want to, supported only by a continuing audio. Every frame acts like a playground letting his actors become pawns in the director’s investigation of life. This is truly something that has to be seen.
But the film, just like life, is also made up of small things: Hector Herrera’s talented portrayal of Don Heber letting go of his dog, Sica; or, in better times, Heber and Sica sharing a bowl of cereal in synchronisation; Lucia’s missing the concert; David’s Bruce Lee obsession; and the fridge, which, seemingly like everything else in Juan’s life, is broken.
Lake Tahoe is not a film to be missed. Between Baz Luhrman’s heavily CGI-dependent The Great Gatsby which decided to take its own path away from the book, and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant The Wolf of Wallstreet, Lake Tahoe definitely leans towards Wolf…’s organic tone making it a match to these much newer films for any connoisseur. As for Gatsby itself, now that we mention it, nobody who has actually read the book can be satisfied with the film that looked like Mr Luhrman’s own creation.
The only thing nagging me was the film’s title. Lake Tahoe — or water itself, for that matter — has little to do with this film, so where does the title fit in except for that obscure reference to a Lake Tahoe bumper sticker Juan’s aunt had sent them and that his father hated. I suppose some things are truly rhetoric devices even in films.
To formally sum it all up: Tahoe is a moving, captivating film that only demands you give a lot more of your time to it than you would expect. It deserves a good 4/5 because, at times, it left me wanting an ever so slightly inconspicuous camera presence in the hall.
Sometimes, you realise a camera is there, other times, you are pulled into a vortex of uncanny, yet appealing, film making, like when Mr Eimbcke makes you watch Juan sitting still in a car and turns off his camera when the traffic lights turn green, or when he does that again every time somebody closes the car door.
This is one of those films you end up loving or hating with a passion. I, for one, loved it.