No Hollywood director could get away with pushing the limits of awkward pubescent sexuality quite like Mexican filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke in his latest film, Club Sandwich. Eimbcke goes places beyond cringe-worthy that will feel strikingly real to anyone who's survived that terrible transition phase. He has no shame exploring -- and lingering on -- some of the most banal yet sordid moments many remember but few ever want to recall, and he does it all with a brilliant deadpan sense of humor.
Eimbcke, who was last represented at the Miami International Film Festival in 2005 with his acclaimed Duck Season, also wrote the screenplay for this witty but grounded dramedy. Hip single mother Paloma (María Renée Prudencio) and her roly-poly 15-year-old son, Hector (Lucio Giménez Cacho), wile away the time at a desolate beach resort in the steamy low-season. Hector looks for every opportunity he can to excuse himself from the swimming pool for long bathroom breaks, so as to release his virile fluids. Then he bumps into solitary 16-year-old Jazmin (Danae Reynaud).
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As tensions grow, the actors rise to the occasion. A casual chemistry between mother and son vividly walks that difficult line between the mother treating her son as an adult who still happens to be a child. Paloma, who has a pierced temple and feels comfortable talking to Hector about how sexy Prince's music sounds, does her best to seem casual about her son's growing up, yet a desire to clutch him close to her bosom underlies everything. When she teases him about his peach-fuzz mustache, it comes across as affectionate and casual, and even though Prince is sexy, Hector is of course sexy in his own way. Alternately, he reveals a discomforting oedipal complex when he's left alone in their hotel room with a favorite bikini his mom has grown bored of wearing.
Before it gets too weird, Jazmin appears, jumping in to help apply sunblock on Hector's back, as his mother isn't around. During the rare moments they find themselves alone in a hotel room they hardly do more than sit next to each other on a bed, yet their gravitation to one another feels like a force beyond their control. The magnetism feels primal, albeit clumsy. The adult mother's power inevitably slips away, as she begins to surrender to a creeping feeling of obsolescence, although not without a fight that's equal parts heartfelt and creepy. Though the movie focuses keenly on this triangle, nothing feels overt. It's all about passive aggression, and it culminates with a particularly cruel card game in the hotel room of the mother and son.
Eimbcke allows the camera to hover over painfully long, spare, quiet scenes (there's no score to either embellish or detract from these moments), inviting the viewer to empathize with these youths who struggle with repression against the inexorable determination of their hormones. The camera is often fixed and motionless, inviting contemplation by the audience. Cinematographer María Secco's framing always feels spot on, giving languorous scenes of sun-block lotion sharing an extra, visceral depth.
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Though the pace is deliberate, at 82 minutes long, Club Sandwich never feels dull. It's consistently shot with an eye for warmth and humor, giving the actors space to indulge in their roles for dynamic expression of often conflicted feelings. The film needs these extended moments of tension in order to rise to glorious heights of beautifully uncomfortable urgency. Using a bold sense of humor, Club Sandwich is not afraid to show young teens being teens, revealing itself as one of the more raw and honest films about one of the gawkiest times every person must endure.
Club Sandwich screens Monday, March 10, 7:15 p.m., at Regal Cinema South Beach and Wednesday, March 12, 6:45 p.m. at Paragon Grove. The director will be present to both introduce the film and indulge the audience in a Q&A. Tickets.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.