×

Film Review: ‘The Empty Hours’

Aaron Fernandez's infectiously engrossing drama brims with unstated longing and superb character development.

With:

Kristyan Ferrer, Adriana Paz, Eliseo Lara Martinez, Fermin Martinez, Bartolo Campos, Rebeca Villacorte, Norma Pablo, Amaranta Abril, Sergio Lasgon, Mayra Batalla. (Spanish dialogue)

A teenage boy looking after a sex motel near Veracruz develops a crush on a woman neglected by her lover in Aaron Fernandez’s infectiously engrossing sophomore feature, “The Empty Hours.” Sparsely plotted yet brimming with unstated longing and superb character development, this subtle, handsomely shot drama features two standout performances that fully justify the weight on the actors’ shoulders. With the right buildup and a growing positive critical consensus, the pic could take advantage of increasing interest in Mexican product not just at fests but in limited arthouse play.

Uncle Gerry (Fermin Martinez) needs some medical issues addressed in the city, so he hands the keys of his rent-by-the-hour seaside motel to 17-year-old nephew Sebastian (Kristyan Ferrer). Told that “the most important thing in this business is discretion,” Sebastian isn’t quite prepared for the solitude — clients tend to avoid interaction, since their assignations are generally illicit — and he’s not happy filling in for the absent maid. He enjoys the sense of independence, but clearly would like to share with someone the stories he invents about customers.

One of these regulars is Miranda (Adriana Paz), who has been posted to the region to sell a new block of not-exactly-thrilling condos; the loneliness and tedium make her motel rendezvous all the more important. Her lover, Mario (Sergio Lasgon), is less invested, often arriving late or not showing at all. Sebastian’s noted her attractions, and the two make conversation while she waits for Mario. Notwithstanding their age difference — she’s probably about 10 years older — Miranda relaxes in Sebastian’s company, and the two develop a casual, easy bond of friendship whose platonic nature isn’t clear to a lonely teenage boy with hormones afire.

Everyone knows it takes far more skill to tell a simple story well than a complex one, and Fernandez (“Used Parts”) has a masterful handle on narrative, structure and character, skillfully blending them all in a tale with atmosphere to spare. Most impressively, he apportions equal weight and corporeality to Sebastian and Miranda, finding the camaraderie in their isolation while respecting their differing stages of development. The empty hours of the pleasingly poetic title are clearly delineated, yet their vacuity (as in “Used Parts”), and the characters’ frustrated boredom, are tolerably paced, with no useless action or badinage (though shaving off five or 10 minutes wouldn’t hurt). About the only element that doesn’t work is Jacinto (Eliseo Lara Martinez), a 12-year-old coconut seller near the motel whose role calls for either greater development or total elimination.

Without the warmth and ironic self-awareness that Paz brings to Miranda, the pic might have been a lesser vehicle, or at least a less absorbing one. In a truly breakthrough role, the actress enlivens the screen with palpable charm, her physical ease and ready geniality interrupted but not effaced by frustration and loneliness. Ferrer captures Sebastian’s teenage need for gratification, which is part libido, part post-adolescent emotional confusion.

Visuals are carefully framed and cleanly constructed, imbued with generous affection toward all while maintaining a certain wry distance. Fernandez and d.p. Javier Moron perfectly convey the anodyne emptiness of the pastel-colored Palma Real Motel, situated in tawdry isolation on the coastal road.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Empty Hours'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors), Sept. 27, 2013. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival — competing; Morelia Film Festival — Official Selection.) Running time: 100 MIN. Original title: "Las horas muertas"

Production:

(Mexico-France-Spain) A Santa Lucia Cine presentation of a Santa Lucia Cine, Foprocine, Tita Prods., Comunicacion Fractal production. (International sales: Urban Distribution Intl., Montreuil, France.) Produced by Aaron Fernandez. Co-producers, Christophe Bouffil, Fred Premel, Alejandro Palma. Executive producer, Elsa Reyes.

Crew:

Directed, written by Aaron Fernandez. Camera (color), Javier Moron; editor, Ana Laura Calderon; music, Camilo Froideval; production designer, Patricia de Burgos; costume designer, Laura Garcia de la Mora; sound, Pablo Tamez, Miguel Hernandez Montero; sound designer, Hernandez Montero; casting, Rocio Belmont.

With:

Kristyan Ferrer, Adriana Paz, Eliseo Lara Martinez, Fermin Martinez, Bartolo Campos, Rebeca Villacorte, Norma Pablo, Amaranta Abril, Sergio Lasgon, Mayra Batalla. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Josefina-Molina

    Josefina Molina: Still Battling After All These Years

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — She isn’t done yet. The battling character of Josefina Molina, winner of Spain’s 2019 National Cinematography Prize, was glimpsed in her acceptance speech at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday. She used part to thank those who had given crucial help, such as, among women, editors Nieves Martin (1981’s “Función de Noche,” [...]

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content