Left alone in a high-rise apartment for a Sunday afternoon, 14-year-old best buds Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño) kick it: They load up on junk food, and plop down in front of the Xbox to play Halo under their noms de guerre ... Bin Laden and Bush. It's just another lazy, insignificant day coolly depicted in Fernando Eimbcke's gentle coming-of-age drama Duck Season.
Eimbcke begins his film, shot in black and white, with a slide show of shots that sketch out a grim modern corner of an unnamed Mexican city, an island of dirty concrete traversed only by automobiles. It's a place off limits to kids: one shot captures a street sign cautioning motorists to look out for children that has been knocked over and graffiti-ed. Little wonder the boys prefer their parentless retreat on the eighth floor of an apartment block.
They're perturbed when a neighbor, 16-year-old Rita (Danny Perea), interrupts: Can she use their oven to bake a cake? When a blackout squelches the Xbox, the lads turn to another game: They order a pizza hoping the deliveryman won't make the 30-minute guarantee. An argument over the result ... a disputed 11 seconds ... means the Telepizza man, Ulises (Enrique Arreola), won't leave. They'll settle it with a football video game. Meanwhile, the cake has burnt: Can Rita make another? The power goes out again. At a halfhearted stalemate, the four hunker down for an afternoon together.
Duck Season is the feature debut of Eimbcke, who cut his teeth on shorts and music videos, and who co-wrote the screenplay with Felipe Cazals and Paula Markovitch. The dialogue has a loose, improvised feel, and the three young actors are naturalistic. Eimbcke also has a keen eye for the small details of youth ... the boys intently fill their glasses with soda right to the very lip; Moko covers his embarrassment at catching his friend undressed by calling him an asshole.
Eimbcke's camera rarely moves, and the story is restricted almost entirely to the apartment ... a couple of flashbacks, shot on grainy stock, illustrate Ulises' tale of weary employment, including his stint at the dog pound (another place where lively souls are locked up in concrete boxes). Eimbcke's static technique effectively underscores the confinement and boredom the characters feel.
And always in Duck Season, there is the passage of time: the oven timer, the periods of the soccer game, the steady dripping of a leaky faucet, a clock ticking ... and the boys maturing. Without any dramatic moments, and in just these few hours, we see each boy take another few steps toward growing up. These steps are awkward, painful, confusing, bittersweet and occasionally exhilarating, and in Eimbcke's lovely film they remind us that every minute of adolescence is fraught with both discovery and loss. In Spanish, with subtitles.