Review: ‘Duck Season’

Newcomer Fernando Eimbcke reveals a disciplined visual sense, a good ear for dialogue and an easy rapport with his fresh young actors in "Duck Season," a modestly scaled, black-and-white comedy about unsupervised teenagers killing time. This slight but appealing film's understated moments of tenderness should play well.

Newcomer Fernando Eimbcke reveals a disciplined visual sense, a good ear for dialogue and an easy rapport with his fresh young actors in “Duck Season,” a modestly scaled, black-and-white comedy about unsupervised teenagers killing time. Winner of a string of prizes earlier this year at Mexico’s Guadalajara fest, this slight but appealing film’s funky eccentricity feels a little contrived at times. But its low-key charms, adolescent insights and understated moments of tenderness should play well in continuing fest dates, tagging former music video director Eimbcke as a filmmaker to watch.

Set almost entirely in a single apartment in a working class housing development in Mexico City, the film hangs with 14-year-old best friends Moko (Diego Catano) and Flama (Daniel Miranda) over the course of one Sunday. As soon as Flama’s mother leaves for the day, the two kids settle on the couch to eat junk food and play videogames.

Their first interruption arrives when young neighbor Rita (Danny Perea) comes by to use the oven, as hers is broken. Bored during one of the building’s frequent power outages, the boys phone to order pizza, declining to pay delivery guy Ulises (Enrique Arreola) when he arrives 30 seconds after the established time. Settling on the doorstep, Ulises refuses to budge until he’s paid. Moko and Flama propose a vidgame challenge — a Real Madrid vs. Manchester United soccer match — for the cash, but that gets cut short at a crucial point by another power interruption.

As the day wears on, the quartet splits into various configurations. Moko joins Rita in the kitchen for a number of abortive cake-baking attempts before settling on brownies, while in the living room, Flama and Ulises eat the pizza but continue to argue over payment. Rita adds some marijuana in the brownies, which shifts the group onto a more mellow plane.

Imperceptibly introducing weightier themes while never quite nudging the material entirely into seriocomedy, Eimbcke reveals aspects such as Rita’s loneliness — her 16th birthday has been completely forgotten at home — the thanklessness of Ulises’ job, Moko’s confused feelings for Flama and the latter’s anger over his parent’s impending divorce and messy division of assets.

Taking its title from a cheesy artwork won by Flama’s folks in a raffle — which features in Ulises’ amusing stoned dream — the film feels insubstantial. But it conveys both the energy and ennui of adolescence, the restlessness and listlessness of kids’ insular worlds and the natural impulse to reject authority or adult expectation and just go with the flow. The likeable cast is refreshingly unaffected, with Arreola’s geeky physical presence yielding some affably goofy comic moments.

Eimbcke and d.p. Alexis Zabe counter the limitations of the physical setting with a highly controlled visual scheme involving very little camera movement in favor of short scenes played out in quirkily composed static shots and punctuated by quick cuts to black.

Duck Season

Critics Week / Mexico

Production

A Cinepantera, Lulu Producciones production in association with Fidecine, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia. (International sales: Funny Balloons, Paris.) Produced by Christian Valdelievre. Executive producer, Jaime B. Ramos. Directed by Fernando Eimbcke. Screenplay, Eimbcke, Paula Markovitch, Felipe Cazals.

Crew

Camera (B&W), Alexis Zabe; editor, Mariana Rodriguez; music, Alejandro Rosso, Liquits; production designer, Diana Quiroz; sound (Dolby Digital/THX), Lena Esquenazi; casting, Rocio Belmont. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week), May 14, 2004. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Ulises - Enrique Arreola Moko - Diego Catano Flama - Daniel Miranda Rita - Danny Perea
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