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March 29-April 4, 2006

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Duck Season

Photograph by Jaime B. Ramos
Life's Couch: Pizza guy Enrique Arreola hangs out with Daniel Miranda and Diego Cataño in 'Duck Season.'

Bird Shots

Mexican feature 'Duck Season' tells the incredible story of a Sunday when nothing happened

By Richard von Busack

THE TITLE OF Mexico's Duck Season recalls the squabbling of Bugs and Daffy in front of the Cheney-like Elmer Fudd. Instead, this inspired comedy of stalemate introduces local audiences to a pungent comic talent.

Presented by Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mamá También), Fernando Eimbcke's film is a dry yet intimate story of a dull Sunday that ends up punctuated by power failures and power games, BB gunplay, failed baking and ugly art. Among the last is an amateur painting of drakes on a lake that recalls that Kinks anthem to deplorable taste, "Ducks on the Wall": "If ducks can fly/ then so can I/ but if those ducks are going to stay/ then I'm gonna fly away."

Like many Kinks songs, Duck Season insists on the funny side of failure. But Eimbcke's work springs from the longing and stalemates of early teen life, much more so than many of the teen movies that litter the theaters.

Eimbcke shoots in a black-and-white that looks as if the color had been leached out of it by the weather. The setting is colorless, anyway. It is a modestly upscale tower housing development of Eastern European-weight architectural aggression.

We see the child-depressing playground that some sadist built under the freeway overpass, sprouting with prickly weeds. The camera rides around the bases of high-tension pylons. Stray ponds reflect a concrete high rise that's always going to look damp, no matter how severe the drought.

The tower is named, loftily, Niños Heroes, an inside joke regarding the child martyrs of the Mexican War of 1840. The niños were young soldiers who threw themselves off a battlement rather than let themselves be captured. The two child heroes of Duck Season may not be quite that gallant, but they hold down their high-rise fort for a long afternoon of sugar consumption and Xbox pummeling.

The shaggy, undersized Juan Pablo, called Moko (Diego Cataño), is likely named in honor of the pope, whose 1990s visit to Mexico City is recalled here. (His name may also be a Beatles reference; the Fab Four are also recalled affectionately here.) He is visiting his taller and touchier pal Flama (Daniel Miranda) for yet another Sunday afternoon. They have been left to baby-sit each other in Flama's mom's apartment, bribed with money for a TelePizza delivery.

And then the power cuts out and goes back on and goes out again, as it will in Mexico City. The boys are left to hang out and listen to the faucet drip. In the meantime, the bemusingly pretty 16-year-old next-door neighbor Rita (Danny Perea) drops by to use their oven. (More futility: The oven is from the United States. The temperature shows in Fahrenheit, not Celsius, making for an afternoon of incineration.)

Finally, the pizza man arrives, and joins the ensemble in a long squabble over whether or not he missed the "30 minutes or it's free!" deadline. The wandering deliverer, significantly named Ulises (Enrique Arreola), goes on sit-down strike until he is paid. Sportingly, the kids challenge him to video soccer for the tab.

Since Ulises hates his job, his home and his life, he doesn't have a good reason to leave. Meanwhile, the group's inner tensions emerge. It turns out that Moko and Flama may be going their separate ways soon. Lonely Rita has Molly Ringwald's problem from 16 Candles.

And the sad-sack Ulises has his own tragic story. He's a would-be veterinarian and animal lover who ended up as the head dog killer at the local shelter. (The dead-dog footage here is a poor choice—it's like the interjection of a shocking student film into a smoothly realized story of subtlety and stasis.)

Though it comes from a nation whose cinema depends so much on flamboyant violence and slapstick, Duck Season finds its comedy between the lines. Eimbcke's influences are easy to spot. He has Truffaut's own ability to direct young people and to get them to express their frustrations in a few sentences. We never sense that the children are onstage.

Duck Season shows the touch of Jim Jarmusch in the blackouts, as well as in the wordless scenes of white and gray architectural purgatory, of the spindly, quake-bait buildings that Ulises putters by on his moped. And Eimbcke may be replaying the incident of the pineapple cans in Chungking Express during Rita's game with a pack of Malomar-like Freskas chocolates: she cracks them open, one by one, to see if she'll get her birthday wish. She won't.

While Duck Season is about three adolescents (and one man who hasn't grown up), the film has the rueful intelligence that comes from maturity. It proves something that adolescents eventually learn: in hindsight, the days when nothing happened turn out to be more significant than the days that seemed as if they would change your life forever.

Movie Times Duck Season (R; 90 min.), directed by Fernando Eimbcke, written by Eimbcke and Paula Markovitch, photographed by Alexis Zabe and starring Diego Cataño and Daniel Miranda, plays at selected theaters.

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