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DVD Review: Duck Season

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There's no boredom quite as free or lively as teenage boredom. I remember many a summer day spent doing nothing with a friend; while theoretically we were "bored," it didn't matter because we didn't really need to be doing anything. Just hanging out was enough. Writer/director Fernando Einbcke appreciates this facet of teenage life; in part, it's this thorough understanding (and its indication of greater understandings) that makes his minimalist feature debut Duck Season such a marvel.

What a joy, what an absolute pleasure this film is! Duck Season is a small film filled with moments of acidity and grace, but that doesn't mean it's slight. The mundanity of the film's occurrences reflects a belief that personal change is a series of imperceptible character shifts and decisions – in essence that your life can change without you realizing it until later. As Einbcke spins out the story of one lazy Sunday in the life of four people — best friends Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño), next-door neighbor Rita (Danny Perea), and pizza deliveryman Ulises (Enrique Arreola) — and shows us how moments that appear insignificant at first can end up having massive import. Duck Season, among other things, is a sweet-natured ode to the ephemerality of now.

Lest I make the film sound like some inaccessible art flick, I should also mention that Duck Season is often really funny. The first laugh comes in the opening scene with the boys' perfectly timed reaction to being left alone on a Sunday, and the majority of the film mines a similar charmingly low-key vein. Einbcke's aesthetic approach recalls the deadpan shenanigans of Jim Jarmusch (at times, this leans towards a middle-school version of Stranger than Paradise), but his worldview lacks the air of hipsterism that infects Jarmusch's films.

Much of the humor, then, arises from disruptions or anomalies in the carefully composed mise-en-scene. (There is, for instance, a hilarious setpiece involving the playing of a soccer video game. The arrangement of the characters — Ulises and Flama with their faces pushed right up into the camera lens, Moko in the background providing support and criticism to Flama and Rita in the far back being roundly ignored — can't help but provoke a guffaw, especially as the scene builds in energy to its perfect punchline.)

The astute reader will notice that I haven't gone into much detail about the plot. Summing up the plot of Duck Season is almost beside the point — it starts with two fourteen-year-old boys in an apartment with Coca-Cola and videogames, then it adds a slightly older female who needs to bake a cake, a disgruntled pizza man (an argument between the boys and Ulises over payment and a presumed lateness of eleven seconds leads to a stalemate), and a power outage. It wouldn't be entirely untrue to call this a film where nothing happens… but then, "nothing" doesn't need to mean literally nothing. Einbcke favors texture and character over incidence, and with the quality of the texture he brings out, I'm fine with forgoing a little narrative drive.

It also helps that Einbcke's youthful actors are unusually skilled. Miranda and Cataño are believably awkward as two best buds heading into pubescence, with at least one of them starting to suspect that he may be wired a bit differently; Miranda also deserves commendation for carrying much of the dramatic burden, as this Sunday for him is a welcome respite from the increasingly messy divorce of his parents. Perea, meanwhile, is sweet and likeable as Rita, who uses her age advantage and take-charge attitude to mask her myriad insecurities. The funniest scene in the film involves her melting butter in the foreground and complaining, in a ferocious bout of logorrhea, that boys only like dumb blondes while, in the background, Cataño disinterestedly attempts to set fire to a marshmallow. It's such a perfect combination of character and aesthetics that I was tempted to applaud.

Arreola has the most difficult role in Duck Season as Ulises; he's the sole adult in the picture, yet his emotional development hasn't progressed much beyond the kids with whom he's initially at odds. He's also the one who has the biggest epiphany about his station in life, and he gets to explain the reasoning behind the film's title (derived from a painting that hangs in Flama's living room). Arreola does all this with aplomb, shifting from stoic anger to unbridled amusement when needed on the turn of a dime.

If you took all the teen-centric films Hollywood released in the last twelve months and smashed them all together into one lumpy, focus-grouped monolith, they still wouldn't have one-tenth the truth or entertainment value of Duck Season. Einbcke has given the world a gentle and genuine look at the slow process of growing up. My only reservation comes in trying to imagine what he'll do to equal this next time out — it's that good.

About the DVD: you get a trailer. That's about it. At least it's a good trailer. The black-and-white cinematography deserves the crisp transfer it has received, and it's even anamorphic (which I didn't expect for a film this small, even if it's industry standard now).

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About Steve Carlson

  • Nice review. I’ll have to watch it now.

  • Thanks! Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. I kept thinking maybe I was overrating it a bit, so I watched it again. I wasn’t.

  • Ty

    Sounds like a good find, I look forward to “Netflixing it soon”

    But Film of the Year? Wow, especially in light of Brick, what I still think is the best movie of the year, and is also teen-centric.

  • Well, I haven’t seen Brick yet (it’s been on my dresser in a Netflix envelope for about three months now), but everything I’ve seen and heard leads me to believe I’ll love it. We’ll find out soon.