Monday, April 28, 2014

Club Sandwich (2013)

A scene from Fernando Eimbcke's CLUB SANDWICH, playing at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 24 - May 8, 2014. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society..
WHO: Mexican auteur Fernando Eimbcke wrote and directed this, his third feature film, following Duck Season and Lake Tahoe.

WHAT: One of my favorite scenes from Club Sandwich comes toward the end of the film. (You may want to skip ahead if you're a spoiler-averse hardliner, although I don't think this film or this scene depend on narrative surprise for their success.) Four people are in a car driving on an unpopulated road, and the camera is placed on the hood so we can see all four through the windshield. The driver is Enrique Arreola, who played the pizza deliveryman in Duck Season. Here his role is much smaller; just this scene and another, and no words of dialogue (although his voice is heard on a radio in a third scene, presumably not playing the same character). In the passenger seat is Danae Reynaud, who's playing Paloma, a thirty-something mother of a teenage boy named Hector, played by  Lucio Giménez Cacho (son of Spanish film star Daniel Giménez Cacho, making his film debut). Hector and 16-year-old Jazimn (played by María Renée Prudencio, another screen newcomer) are making out in the back seat while Paloma hunches asleep in her seat. Eventually she wakes up, starts looking around at her surroundings, and finally glances in the rear-view mirror the smooching the audience has been able to watch all along. Though visibly perturbed she plays it cool, yelping as she pretends to swat a mosquito as a way to alert the ineptly-furtive youngsters that their romance just might be discovered.

Club Sandwich, like Eimbcke's prior features, has a title that appears almost random and tossed-off upon first glance. Early in the film, we think we understand its connection to the film when that food is ordered by Paloma and Hector, a single mom and her 15-year-old on a cheap vacation in Oaxaca during the too-hot-for-tourists season. With the hotel pool to themselves, they lounge determinedly, their comments about each others' swimsuits and body shapes revealing a habitual closeness between the pair almost as much as does their frequent nagging of each other about stray fluids in the bathroom (the shower floor; the toilet seat) or the apparent awkwardness Hector exhibits when his hot mom rubs sunscreen over his broad back. He's at the age when he's longing for a less motherly form of female touching, but of course Paloma is the last person on earth he wants to know that.

But there's not really such thing as a sandwich with only two elements to it. Another family arrives at the hotel, and the way lovely Jazmin and Hector at first avoid each other makes quite clear that each has got at least one eye on the only other member of their peer group in sight. Eimbcke is after three films proving himself to be a master of presenting unspoken communication. He guides his three lead actors to tell us just about all we need to know about their characters through their glances, their gestures, and their body language. Inevitably, Jazmin introduces herself to Hector, and soon enough she's the one rubbing lotions on his back as they have deeply laconic conversations about air conditioning, which lead to more lustful interactions. Only when out of their parents' eyesight of course.

So can these three form a club? Once she realizes what's going on with her son (or some of it, anyway; I haven't mentioned his fascination with her bikini top or his late-night masturbation sessions), Paloma makes an effort to draw Jazmin into the kind of conversation Hector had no need to stoop to: what's her family like, what are her interests, etc. By now knows she won't get anywhere talking with Hector about her; there's nothing more mortifying for a teenage boy than admitting to your mother that you're a sexual being. But she finally lets her guard down and reveals just how jealous she is of her son's emergence from family cocooning, in a hilariously and poignantly awkward late night variation on truth-or-dare. It's a perfect climax to a charming, funny little gem of a film.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight at 9:15 at New People Cinema, and 1:30 PM on Sunday, May 4, both screenings presented by the San Francisco International Film Festival.

WHY: If you click on the "guests expected" box for any SFIFF program you can find out if a director, producer, actor or other filmmaker plans to be on hand in support of his or her film. However, this method doesn't reveal whether a filmmaker is actually going to attend a given screening if there are multiple showings. For that information it's best to visit the big calendar board in the Kabuki lobby, where each screening is individually marked (or not) with a star indicating whether a guest plans to be there. In the case of Club Sandwich for example, writer-director Eimbcke gave a delightful q&a session to the audience for an afternoon screening April 26th, and is expected to still be around for tonight's showing, but at this point he's not expected for the May 4th showing.

HOW: Digital.
OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Day 5 of SFIFF includes the final screenings of the acclaimed Romainian film When Evening Falls on Bucharest and of Julie Bertucelli's documentary School of Babel. It also marks the first festival screenings of Tsai Ming-Liang's Stray Dogs and François Ozon's Young & Beautiful.

NON-SFIFF OPTION: If you missed Bruce Baillie's appearance at the festival yesterday, he's still in town for another day, and will be screening recent works including the in-progress Memoirs of an Angel tonight at Oakland's always-free Black Hole Cinematheque.

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