The essence of evocative simplicity, Mexican writer-director Fernando Eimbcke’s deadpan-comic “Club Sandwich” gently sketches the effect of a preteen’s budding puberty on his clingy mom. Not another coming-of-age story so much as a rarer study of a mother coming to accept the imminent end of her son’s childhood, the film, set during the pair’s brief vacation at a near-vacant hotel, gains poignancy in the most delicate manner, with Eimbcke (“Duck Season”) favoring long takes and a laid-back mood akin to that of a sunny day spent lazing around the pool. Commercial prospects for the sweet, exceedingly slender pic appear slight.
One could say that nothing much happens in “Club Sandwich,” with the exception of young Hector’s learning to apply sunscreen on his own — but as any parent knows, such a thing is momentous. Eimbcke seems to have set out to make a minimalist film with maximum pathos, as befits the accumulation of tiny actions that a loving mom is well placed to observe and feel deeply.
Taking advantage of cheap lodging rates during the “low season,” single mother Paloma (Maria Renee Prudencio) and her son, Hector (Lucio Gimenez Cacho), appear to have perfected the art of doing nada on their time off. Paloma listens to music through earphones; once in a while, Hector orders a club sandwich. Mom notices that Hector, aka “Honey Bun,” is starting to grow a mustache, and advises him not to shave because the peach fuzz will only grow back thicker — a concise illustration of Paloma’s wish to extend the kid’s innocence for as long as possible.
Alas, Hector’s modest sexual awakening comes in the form of Jazmin (Danae Reynaud Romero), a slightly older girl who’s staying at the hotel with her dad. Mostly the kids sit together and stare awkwardly into space; at one point, Jazmin gives Hector a gift — a fresh container of deodorant. Paloma initially attempts to interrupt their idyllic meetings, but gradually comes to the point where she’s even facilitating the kids’ private time away from parents.
That this transformation of Paloma’s makes sense is a credit both to Eimbcke’s subtle use of details to advance the narrative, and to Prudencio’s nuanced turn. Throughout the film, the sounds of whirring fans, swaying palm trees, chirping birds and waves hitting sand serve to coax the viewer into the relaxed state of a vacationer. Tech package is elegantly spare.