Miami Film Festival Diary: 'Club Sandwich' charms as the sun shines
MIAMI - Let it never be said that the Miami Film Festival doesn't know its competition. I'm not talking about South By Southwest, running concurrently in Texas at a pace so comparatively frantic that they scarcely seem like equivalent events, but the glorious spring sunshine, currently bathing the city's Art Deco-staggered skyline in honey-clear warmth too delicious to ditch for even the comfiest movie theater. Fully aware of this, Miami is the festival that comes out at night, concentrating its screenings in the evenings and following them up with parties that shoot for Cannes levels of razzle -- all without the shadow of a 7am wake-up call. If there's a more coolly considerate festival on the circuit, I haven't been to it.
Activity intensifies over the fest's opening and closing weekends. Arriving late on Sunday, I missed much of the former, including a glittery kickoff bash attended by Anne Hathaway, Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer -- the latter two the stars of the fest's curtain-raiser "Elsa & Fred," a reportedly low-key but amiable senior romance. The strengths of Miami's programming aren't necessarily starry ones: last year, the highlights in the lineup were mostly to be found in its broad buffet of contemporary Latin-American cinema, and early signs suggests that may be the case again this year.
I'd certainly trade cocktails with Anne Hathaway for another few films as rewarding as a "Club Sandwich" (B+), the lean, lovely latest from Mexican writer-director Fernando Eimbcke ("Duck Season"). Miniatures can be easy to oversell, and after hearing the glowing notices from Toronto and San Sebastian last year, I approached this exceedingly spare mother-son drama with a measure of trust and caution, only to find that it's something rather special indeed: an unassumingly fresh spin on familiar coming-of-age territory, in which the parent's shifting perspective is no less significant or empathetically drawn than the child's.
As in his previous work, Eimbcke has an eye for the comedy and conflict hidden in the most everyday occurrences; in a film largely bereft of major incident, no gesture is minor or unrevealing. The opening scene, in which 15-year-old Hector (Lucio Gimenez Cacho) and his single, thirtysomething mother Paloma (Maria Renee Prudencio) mutually apply cream to each other's backs ahead of an afternoon's sunbathing, tells us everything we need to know about an affectionate, equally weighted relationship that is only just beginning to show signs of adolescent-age drift; their physical intimacy tacitly implying a family unit that no outside party has yet managed to enter.
That begins to change over the course of lazy, low-season vacation in a largely deserted coastal hotel, where Hector and Paloma's contented routine of poolside lounging, room service (the film is named for Hector's standard order) and frank, jovial conversation (Hector's not a kid afraid of asking his mother about her sex life) s disrupted by 16-year-old Jazmin (Danae Reynaud Romero), a lonely fellow hotel guest whose placid demeanor doesn't negate her ability to push Hector's sexual buttons: both curious but perhaps a little behind the developmental beat, the two embark on a course of gentle physical experimentation that unnerves Paloma even as she makes unintentionally invasive gestures to accommodate it.