There’s something suspiciously After School Special about the premise of Fernando Eimbcke’s Duck Season. There are children of an impressionable age and scenarios that involve them meeting new people, expanding their horizons, and generally opening up emotional parts of themselves which may have heretofore lain dormant. All throughout, viewers may be scanning the horizons for lessons being sent their way by a filmmaker wanting to be not only charming but educational. Eimbcke is indeed both, but fortunately not in the way one would think.
In a bleak Mexico City housing complex, 14-year-old best friends Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño) are left alone for the day by Flama’s mother. Thinking they’ll have the whole day to virtually kill each other on the Xbox and eat junk food, it’s with no small irritation that they greet Rita (Danny Perea), the 16-year-old from next door, when she interrupts them so she can borrow the apartment’s kitchen to bake a cake. They turn back to the game only to have the power go out. A perfectly good day ruined. Since the boys have been friends for years, there’s not much left to say, so they lay about the apartment, Flama jittery and nail-biting, Moko more artfully bored in his Rancid t-shirt and luxuriant mop of curls. Time ticks by, water drips from the faucet and the melancholy dread of adolescent boredom is artfully reconstructed. Article continues below
Stasis is interrupted by the pizza delivery man, Ulises (Enrique Arreola) who shows up 11 seconds late (by the boys’ reckoning), meaning that the delivery is free. Only Ulises refuses to leave without payment. In a situation that would result in lawsuits and cable television denunciations if replicated in the United States (land of suspicious minds), the adult Ulises hangs around the apartment with the unsupervised kids, arguing over the money and eventually playing for it on the Xbox when the power comes back on.
In its naturalistic, black-and-white fashion, Duck Season is mindful of what could happen if Robert Rodriguez pulled his head out of the comics and applied what he knows of children's inner world to telling more heartfelt stories. Eimbcke’s examination of the little ways in which Flama and Moko pass the time seems dead on, even capturing the small joys of things like being able to pour the perfect glass of Coke (it’s an art). Inserting the endearingly straightforward Rita into this emotionally static boy zone makes for some nice tension, too, especially when she dragoons Moko into helping her bake. As the day winds on its mellow fashion and each of the characters opens up, Eimbcke makes it seem natural enough and rarely forced. Even the biggest surprises (and there’s at least one serious shocker here) don’t come off as melodramatic, just another wrinkle in a long, weird day.
The film’s most jarring element – namely, the inclusion of the immature and stunted Ulises in this adult-free space – is also what works the least well. While Eimbcke explores the younger characters by means of glances and small emotional eruptions, with Ulises he feels compelled to give the man a longwinded soliloquy about his life, padded out with unnecessary flashbacks that are the only false notes in this otherwise crisply shot work. A good sense of humor and no desire to impart any serious wisdom by film’s end gets Eimbcke through plenty of tight spots, leaving us with a smart little film that dances adroitly from goofy to gorgeous and back again.