2008, PG-13, 127 min. Directed by Chris Eska. Starring Pedro Castaneda, Veronica Loren, Abel Becerra, Walter Perez, Sandra Rios, Grisel Rodriguez.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
Shot in Texas by debuting director/writer/editor Eska, this quiet, contemplative gem of a film paints a painfully accurate portrait of familial love, loss, and healing-by-degrees among the migrant communities bordering San Antonio. Remarkably, neither of the film's two leads had any previous acting experience. Castaneda, who was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead on the strength of this, his one and only film performance, was plucked from his day job as a computer-network installer by the director, while Loren auditioned for her part on a whim. Even more remarkable is the fact that they're so utterly convincing in their roles of father and daughter-in-law; in a film full of small wonders, their instant onscreen chemistry, due in large part not to Eska's dialogue but to simple, elegant grace notes such as nods, shrugs, and tiny, winsome half-smiles, is the most wondrous thing of all. Alternately dreamlike and firmly rooted in the reality of first- and second-generation Mexican immigrants, August Evening is indebted to the seasonally themed films of Yasujiro Ozu (most obviously, Late Autumn). Eska's story of Jaime (Castaneda), an aging, stoic illegal immigrant whose innocuous lifestyle (Sábado Gigante is the highlight of his week) is upset when his wife dies unexpectedly and, soon after, he loses his job at a chicken farm. Jaime is cared for by his widowed daughter-in-law, Lupe (Loren), and this lonely pair is eventually evicted from their hardscrabble home and ends up staying with Jaime's son Victor (Becerra) and, later, his daughter Alice (Rios), but neither offspring seems particularly keen on the idea of Jaime or Lupe remaining in his or her life in anything other than a temporary fashion. Enter local butcher Luis (Perez), who embarks on a slow courtship with the mournful Lupe, while Jaime searches, fruitlessly, for new work as a day laborer. If all this sounds overly melodramatic to you, it's not. Like Ozu, Eska manages to create the impression of vast, tidal emotions roiling beneath a seemingly calm surface, and while it may appear that not all that much of interest is actually going on here, or is happening offscreen, August Evening is masterful in its depiction of the realities of daily life on the fringes of American society. Here, as in reality, it's often the enormously eloquent silences between people, events, and generations that speak the loudest and mean the most. See "Trial and Error, Rewarded," Oct. 3, for an interview with the director, who will be in attendance at select screenings.