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Duck Season

A Film About Mexican Teenagers Where No One Gets Shot? Yes, Indeed.

Winner of 11 Ariel Awards (the Mexican Academy Awards), including Best Picture, Duck Season, a lightly comic, minimalist coming-of-age tale, makes its stateside debut after almost two years. Directed and co-written by first time filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke, Duck Season ("Temporada de patos") has all the distinctive features associated with art cinema, including a loose, episodic structure, and static setups, but it also has a genuine warmth and affection toward its characters and their dilemmas far from the more self-indulgent, occasionally condescending, examples of the genre.

Mexico City, an anonymous apartment building, Sunday, 11:00 am. Two teenagers, Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño), are looking forward to spending the day together without parental supervision. Stocked with all the amenities, including Coke, chips, and an X-Box, Flama and Moko settle into a blissful afternoon of hanging out, playing videogames and eating junk food. In mid-game, Flama's next-door neighbor, Rita (Danny Perea), appears at the door. Rita wants to borrow his mother's oven to bake a cake. Seemingly indifferent to Rita's presence, the boys return to gaming, but a power outage puts their gaming to a halt.

Bored and restless, the boys order pizza from a local pizzeria that promises delivery within 30-minutes or the pizza is free. The deliveryman, Ulises (Enrique Arreola), rushes through traffic and up eight flights of stairs, only to arrive 11 seconds late (or so Moko claims). Ulises insists on payment, the boys refuse, and a standoff follows. Moko suggests a way out: a (virtual) soccer match, winner take all. With the game tied, but a winning goal about to cross the goal line, the power cuts out a second time, this time permanently. Cue a second standoff between the boys and Ulises, Rita meanwhile lingers in the kitchen, pursuing the ever-elusive "perfect" cake.

While the confrontation between the boys and Ulises ends abruptly, tentative revelations (some romantic, some personal, but most confessional follow). Flama and Moko might be friends, but their friendship is crowded with superficial activity (e.g., listening to music, playing videogames, reading comic books, or staring off into space), but not much else. Rita and Ulises have backstories of their own, of course, with Ulises' backstory having a tangential connection to the title of the film (as does a painting of marsh ducks that Flama hates, primarily because his divorced parents both want it).

Thematically, Duck Season isn't a particularly deep or profound film. It covers universal themes about directionless children, teenage friendships, sexual awakening (and experimentation), frustrated desires, and the compromises adults are often forced to make, sacrificing careers, goals, or even dreams when other obligations take precedence, but Eimbcke handles the characters, their backstories, and their developing relationships with warmth and affection. Luckily, Eimbcke stays clear of sentimentality and heavy-handedness that would have otherwise cheapened or coarsened the themes he wanted to convey.

Structurally, Eimbcke shot Duck Season as a series of loosely connected scenes, liberally using fades to black to transition between scenes. Eimbcke's shooting style emphasizes the dramatic content of each scene over film school, "look-at-me" gimmickry. Eimbcke keeps visual flourishes to a minimum, with the exception of one or two "impossible" camera angles (e.g., from inside the oven or refrigerator). The end result? Eimbcke's minimalist, simplified shooting style creates an intimate tone and relationship between the characters and the audience.

Performance wise, Daniel Miranda (Flama) and especially Diego Cataño (Moko) shine. Eimbcke worked with a theater director, placed ads in local newspapers, eventually choosing Miranda and Cataño for their natural chemistry together. Eimbcke then took his actors through rigorous rehearsals to dig deep into their characters, their backstories and their conflicts. The rehearsal process, however, gave Eimbcke enough confidence in his actors to allow on-set improvisation. It certainly paid off. Miranda and Cataño give relaxed, authentic performances (Danny Perea as Rita and Enrique Arreola as Ulises acquit themselves almost as well).

Ultimately, Eimbcke's stripped-down aesthetic, humorous, affectionate approach to his characters and their relationships make for a successful combination. Viewers unfamiliar with the languid pacing of art or independent cinema (e.g., Bergman, Antonioni, Jarmusch, Wong Kar Wai) might end up thinking otherwise (and looking at their watches frequently during the screening). To Eimbcke's credit, Duck Season runs a relatively brisk 85 minutes. It's easy to imagine a "serious" art cinema director pushing Duck Season's running time to two plus hours, self-indulgently mirroring the characters' onscreen boredom with the audience's own. One thing Eimbcke isn't, though, is self-indulgent.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars