Friday, July 10, 2009

LAKE TAHOE: Eimbcke's dreaded "second" film proves a gem. Also: filmmaker Q&A

On the basis of his first two full-length features -- Duck Season and now Lake Tahoe -- I'm ready to declare Mexican filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke (pronounced I'm Kay, with the accent on the first syllable) an original. The guy's got his own tone and take on things, and his movies remind me of little else in the canon. Sure, you could

bring up Jarmusch (some have), but Eimbcke's work is sweeter, looser, with a distinctive sense of hopeful surprise in the world and its people -- Mexican variety.

Meeting this co-writer (with Paola Markovitch) and director in person underscores what one gets from his films: kindness, hope and an open, guileless quality that proves enormously welcoming. As one person who's involved pro-
fessionally with Eimbcke (shown at right) here in the U.S. told me bluntly: "He's the nicest filmmaker I've ever worked with." Nice is good, of course, but what we viewers want is content and style on-screen, and he certainly offers that, too, but in a quiet, subtle way. Dogs may bark in his new film, but nobody seems to shout.

Lake Tahoe begins with a bang -- on a black screen. When the first visual occurs, we see that a car has crashed -- nothing horrible: the driver -- a young man -- seems a little stunned but OK. He (and the film) spend the next 84 minutes trying to get that car repaired, walking into the nearby small town and connecting with one person after another and taking bizarre/funny, real/moving side-trips into the life of the town's characters. Scenes are divided by the same black screen that opens the movie, making them seem a bit like chapters in a book.

As the film progresses, we learn the back-story, too, and of the loss our hero (well-played by Diego Cataño, shown right who bears some resemblance to a younger Eimbcke) has suffered. It turns out that this story is quite similar to one that happened to the director, and I find it interesting that Eibmcke chose to make this his second film -- rather than his first, as I suspect many new filmmakers would have done. Perhaps holding off on telling it until he had gained more filmmaking savvy has enabled this wise and talented director to avoid that curse of the disappointing follow-up to a well-received first film.

Whatever: Lake Tahoe is a tiny diamond in the rough. Like the interesting poster/DVD box art (shown top) designed for its US release, the title, with its see-through lettering, makes the lake itself seem more a memory than anything concrete.

Eimbcke's film begins its U.S. theatrical-run at Anthology Film Archives, New York City, today, 7/10/2009 through 7/16/09, and will then open at the NW Film Forum in Seattle, WA, and the San Francisco Film Society, CA, from 7/24/2009 through 7/30/2009. The generally spot-on Film Movement is handling distribution throughout the U.S., which means we can definitely see it again on DVD -- eventually.


Trust Movies meets with Señor Eimbcke in the Film Movement office on a wonderfully cool and breezy summer afternoon, which NYC has been graced with more often than usual so far this year. The writer/director is relatively tall, dark and good looking, very friendly and eager to talk. (There may be a few spoilers ahead, so -- if possible -- see the movie and then come back to this post.)

TrustMovies: First off, how do you pronounce your last name?

Fernando Eimbcke (shown below, right): "Eimbcke."

So, phonetically, this sounds just like I’m Kay – with the accent on the first syllable?

Yes, that’s it.

What extraction is that name? From which countries does it come?

It’s German. From the north -- where they put a lot of consonants all together. That happens in the northern part of Germany.

Your movies – and by that, I mean just your two full length features, Duck Season and Lake Tahoe, rather than your shorts, which I have not seen – seem to me, more than those of any other moviemaker I can think of, sort of like the film equivalent of a shrug.

A shrug? What is a shrug?

Like this (I give him a visual example of a shrug). But a kind of very wonderful, multi-dimensional shrug which has lots of humor and feeling and questioning inside it. Does this make sense to you?

Um-hum… Uh-hum... Yes!

For me, your films are not like anyone else’s work. They seem original – without trying to be original. How do you do this?

Well…. I am very happy that you have not seen my short films, because these are very different from my full-length. When I started in the film school, we had screenwriting classes but it was not like the most important thing. I think that this was because they expected that, at the end, we would make only a short film And so they never wanted to worry that much… about….

You mean about plot and characterization and all those things.

Yes, because the films would just be short. But the structure of a short film is so different from a long one. So when I got out from school, I made all these music videos, short films that were very funny but with no drama. Then I made a short film with drama. But it was a terrible short film with three or four short scenes that worked and all the rest were terrible. But then I had the great luck to meet Paola Markovitch. She worked with me on Duck Season and Lake Tahoe. With her I learned a lot -- about drama, conflict, character, and so my perspective on filmmaking changed a lot after I met Paola.

She was the co-writer with you?

In Duck Season she was a kind of collaborator and adviser but on Lake Tahoe she was a co-writer! Because I had lost my father and she had lost her father, it was like a story built from….

From reality?


How old were you when you lost your father?


And that’s what the character in the film is going through -- the loss of his own father.

Yes, and so once I met Paula, I learned a lot of about drama, conflict, character, and so my perspective of filmmaking changed a lot.

“Where did the idea from Lake Tahoe come from?” was my next question, but clearly it came from the death of your own father.

Yes, I crashed my family’s car after the death of my own father when I was 16, and I didn’t know why. So Lake Tahoe was a kind of excuse to finally understand that stupid action.

Your movie begins after the crash.

We hear that he crashed the car but it is in a black frame, so we don’t see it.

I didn’t make the connection right away that your character had deliberately crashed the car. It took me awhile to make that connection. But it didn’t bother me because everything in the film was so interesting.

The reason that we didn’t show the event of the crash if because we didn’t know or care about why he crashed the car. Like with what happened to me: I didn’t know why, in real life when it happened, and either does my character in the film. So it’s like I give my character that chance to find out.

Did you see Rachel Getting Married: the Jonathan Demme movie?

No. Not yet.

There’s a car crash in that film, too, and it has to do with a death in the past. But it is handled so differently, and comes toward the end of the movie, and for me it was sort of a deal-breaker. The movie was going along very nicely, and then suddenly the event happens, and from then on in the movie does not make as much good sense. In your film, I think it helps that we know nothing about what happened before the crash. We can piece everything together afterward, if we choose to. And when we do, things make sense – logically, emotionally, in every kind of way.

I hope so.

What did your movie cost to make?

Two millions dollars.

U.S dollars?


That’s pretty expensive. For a small independent film.

We did the film not in Mexico City area, but in the Southwestern part of Mexico, and that cost a lot because we needed to pay for the airplane fare, the rooms….

What did Duck Season cost?

One million dollars.

Wow – that was relatively expensive, too. How long did it take you and Paola to write Lake Tahoe?

Oh, a long time. A very long time. Because after I had finished Duck Season, we talked about the story, and then very quickly we wrote the treatment, and then I wrote a first draft which was very good. But I kept thinking it was very bad: a bad story, a bad idea. I was very scared after Duck Season because there were so many expectations....

That’s always very hard: doing a second film after your first one is so well-received.

I just didn’t know if I should even be making this film. Because it was a personal story. I didn’t want to talk about that theme -- the death of a father. Because I felt that my story won’t be good enough if I talk about something so personal.

And yet you don’t talk about it so much in the movie. You talk about everything around that. But not so much the thing itself.

No. Instead we took a decision to not do “tears” in the film. Or all the sadness. It’s a story about loss, but there won’t be tears because they are not necessary. There is a conflict, and a dramatic situation, but we don’t need to show the tears and sadness because that is the easy way. When you have lost someone you love, it is very private. You don’t go with people in the streets, crying. You go somewhere private.

Yes, and you don’t always come to terms with the loss right away. It takes awhile. At first, you often don’t even know what to make of it.

When I wrote the first draft of my script. I told my wife, who read the script—

Wait, wait. Your wife? You're married? How old are you now?

I’m 38.

Wow – I thought you were much, much younger. Like, in your late 20s. I'm probably mixing you up with your character a bit. So then you’ve had over 20 years to be thinking about all of this, your father and his death, and coming to terms with it.

In some ways I was like the main character during the writing of the script. I was escaping, or trying to escape from it. But I had very good luck to have Paola Markovitch at my side and also my producers – telling me, it’s a good story, go for it, do it!

You said it took a long, long time to write the final script . But how long, once that script was finished, did it take to film it?

A very short time. Just five weeks. Very quickly -- and the editing process was really, really fast, too. It was very enjoyable, too. I won’t say “easy” but very natural, very organic, very good.

What is the biggest difference between doing a short and long film.

Doing the short film is not easy, but your can do it quickly. The full-length screenplay is like running a marathon.

What do you see happening to Mexico politically in the coming years. Do you see any real change afoot?

No.. Not really. I…. I don’t know. I think it will get….


Yes. I don’t know. We had elections, just three days ago. Not for President, but for the Congress. And the same PRI party has stayed in power for 70 years….

That was the party of Vicente Fox?

No, that was the PAN party.

But then the PRI has not been in power for the most recent 70 years, because Fox was President for a time?

No, the PRI was in power for 70 years, and then Fox and the PAN party came into power, and then Felipe Calderón, also with the PAN. And now everything is back to PRI.

So there were only two Presidents under PAN.

Yes, and it is very sad. The party of the left is like a mess right now. Very divided…..

The right always seems to know how to coalesce -- not just in Mexico but all over. They know how to hold on to power, while the left is always all over the place. I am not sure this will change because to make a change, the left will have to start acting and behaving like the right: being in lock-step and not allowing dissent and using its power to crush the opposition. This has always been sort of anathema to the left -- it goes against our deepest feelings. Consequently, the party of the right can align itself with any of the nastiest plans and then ride roughshod over everything. Were you more PAN-oriented than PRI. Do you prefer one to the other?

Ummmm. I don’t like any of them. I prefer a party of the left.

So PAN is not left.

No, PAN is right-wing.

More than PRI? Really?! So Fox and Calderón are more right-wing than PRI? I didn’t realize that.

PRI likes to pretend that it is the party of the center but this is not really true. They go with whatever works for them. They don’t have a pure ideology, no. (Fernando seems sad. We just sit for a moment.)

So what’s next on your agenda? I checked the IMDB, but it doesn’t to say you are doing anything new.

Ah… No, but I am working now on a short film. I was invited to make a short film for a film that will be called Revolution. Because in Mexico next year we will celebrate the centenary of the Mexican Revolution.

That was Zapata?


One hundred years already? Wow. It won’t be a very happy celebration though, will it?

No. Actually, no. But they invited us to make a film, and that seemed really good. It will not be like an institutional film, either. They told us, Here is the money: Do whatever you want.

Did they do this with several filmmakers?

Yes. With ten Mexican filmmakers.

So this will be like the 9/11 compilation film?

Yes, or like Paris, Je t’aime.

Ah, so then I imagine that filmmakers like Iñárritu and the Cuarón brothers will be included?

Maybe. Ummm.... Right now I cannot really say too much about the film or who will be doing it.

But it will be released in 2010?


Short films should be easier to bring in more quickly, right?

Yes, but this one took me a long time. A long time.

Were you happier with this one than with your earlier short films?

Oh, yes.

OK: Is there anything else you want to talk about: Something that you always hope that journalists will ask you but none of us ever do. Or something you want to “soapbox” aobut…?

Eimbcke think about this for a few moments....

Right now, there are a lot of people talking about Mexican cinema -- all around the world and at festivals. There are also a lot of Mexican filmmakers doing very good things. It is a very good moment for Mexican films. But in the end, it is a shame that this phenomenon is not working well in Mexico – in terms of exhibition, distribution, attendance, or the Mexican people supporting new Mexican cinema. There are not that many places to show new Mexican cinema in Mexico.

I hear this so often in countries all around the world, especially, I think, in Spain and Latin American countries.

Yes, it is very difficult. I hope that things change, with Mexican cinema. There are amazing things happening in Mexican cinema. Like a documentary called Shakespeare’s and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies by Yulene Olaizola. It is really good.

Will it be released here? Was it released in Mexico?

No, neither. But I hope it will be. That’s the problem in Mexico!

Was Lake Tahoe released in Mexico?


Was it successful?

No. It was not successful in terms of box-office.

Everybody wants to see Transformers.

Yes, but I think there are a lot of people who love cinema. Who are even going to school to study cinema. I think people must turn their attention toward exhibition – in order to create new places to see this kind of cinema. You can spend all your life fighting with the huge exhibitors, saying, Please show my film. But the exhibitors will say, I need to show Transformers because I need to make money. We need to find new ways to exhibit.

Do you have anything like Netflix or streaming movies in Mexico?

We don’t have anything like Netflix, but we do have the ability to stream on computer. But not that many people can afford to do this. We still have video stores, but they sometimes work -- or they don’t. We put them in the south part of Mexico and it didn’t work. We have Blockbuster, but they don’t show the smaller movies. I hope things change. Things must.

Yes, but you said you think they wouldn’t change politically. And if they don’t change politically, can they change any other way?

I think that the people will change. I believe in people, in the power of the people. In Mexico, right now, there are the congressional elections, and there was a huge movement toward the “Block Vote.” When you go to vote, you just put a huge X across the voting card – which means “I don’t believe in the elections. It does not mater who you vote for. It doesn’t matter if its PRI or PAN or whatever.” And people are doing this in a huge way. They are saying we no longer believe in this way of doing things. So, maybe....

The Film Movement PR person interrupts our session, and so
we thank Fernando Eimbcke for his time -- and his films --

and we hope he keeps up the good work.

(All photos, excepting those of Señor Eimbcke, are from Lake Tahoe.)


GHJ - said...

This film blew my mind. A masterpiece in m book. The weight of every small detail in connection with character is something special. And a very interesting interview Jim!

TrustMovies said...

Thanks, Glenn. To meet Fernando is to love him -- at once. And to see his films results in pretty much the same thing. Glad to know that you're a fan, too.