Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
August Evening
Starring Pedro Castañeda and Veronica Loren. Written and directed by Chris Eska. Rated PG-13.
Indian Summer

A first-time director stands tall in this Tex-Mex indie feature.


A movie title like August Evening gives you an idea that there won’t be car chases and explosions in store. This Spanish-language indie is opening only at Cinema Latino de Fort Worth this Friday, and it’s receiving little advance publicity because it doesn’t have recognizable stars, an easy story hook, or a large promotional budget. (The entire film was made for under $500,000.) Yet this calmly understated work is well worth checking out because it heralds the arrival of a considerable new filmmaking talent, from right here in Texas.
The story, set in South Texas, takes a while to get going, but it begins with undocumented migrant farm worker Jaime Esparza (Pedro Castañeda) being dealt a double blow when his wife (Fort Worth native Raquel Gavia) dies and he’s laid off from his job because of his advancing age. With no other work readily available, Jaime pulls up stakes, resolving to find a job in San Antonio and marry off his daughter-in-law Lupe (Veronica Loren), who had been living with him and his wife since the death of their son.
First-time feature filmmaker Chris Eska, a UCLA grad who hails from the tiny Texas town of Ottine, takes a deliberate approach to the work. His style is heavily reminiscent of David Gordon Green’s in All the Real Girls and George Washington; there are lots of lyrical shots of both the countryside and the San Antonio skyline, numinously photographed by cinematographer Yasu Tanida. (Eska met many of this film’s Japanese crew members during his travels in the Far East.) The visuals are underscored by quiet ambient guitar music, and the editing gives the film a gently rolling rhythm punctuated by a few stray comic bits – the restaurant scene involving jalapeños is the best one. At 130 minutes, this movie could have worked more economically, but Eska mostly does well at letting us drink in his film’s visual beauty without allowing boredom to set in.
Eska handles the plot deftly, eschewing cheap dramatics at every turn. Though Jaime and Lupe are illegals, there’s thankfully no scene where they have to run from la migra. Jaime tries to reconnect with his two surviving children — underemployed son Victor (Abel Becerra) and white-collar daughter Alice (Sandra Rios) — while he stays with them in turn, and his attempts are conducted with telling small gestures instead of telenovela-style confrontations. Best of these is the remarkable sequence late in the film when Jaime makes nopalitos for Victor’s breakfast and the two of them reach an understanding about their lives while discussing how much chile to add. This cast is largely composed of first-time actors — Castañeda runs a tow-truck company — and though their inexperience sometimes shows, they fit well with this film’s subtle drama.
In telling the story of an old man coming to terms with the legacy he has left his family and finding a measure of contentment late in life, August Evening is a movie that sticks with you. This is mostly because of the skill and insight brought to the project by Chris Eska, who has the necessary tools to be a major filmmaker. If he does, we can all say that we were there when he got his start.

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