Film Reviews


By • Sep 11th, 2008 •

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Of course, for $40,000, you can buy a 2004 Ford Thunderbird or Mercedes Sports Wagon. Or, re the wives of the presidential nominees (if you believe the tabloids) cover the clothing allowance for two lifetimes of one, or monthly upkeep for a few of the others’ many homes.

But getting back to the silver screen, incredibly, for that very same amount in his debut feature, young writer/director Chris Eska, 32, has helmed a film of astonishing depth and sensitivity that far belies its negligible cost – and decidedly unHollywood budget, considering A-listers like Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise earn $20 million or more per role.

Which all proves that money isn’t everything. Especially here, because even without stars or f/x, AUGUST EVENING is that rarity—an inspirational indie whose universal appeal spans the generations, crosses cultural borders and easily transcends language barriers. (It’s both in English and subtitled Spanish.) Yasu Tanida’s cinematography, on a visually idyllic canvas of America’s southwest, beautifully captures the film’s disquieting mental milieu. And though Eska’s dialogue is sparse, in the best neo-realistic tradition of Yasujiro Ozu, he allows his characters every nuance and gesture to suggest volumes of emotion.

The plot is basically a simple one: of the shattered dreams and hopes of displaced persons, who, uprooted from their homes, search for another.

After his beloved wife dies and he loses his job – both unexpectedly – Jaime (Pedro Castenada), an undocumented farm worker in Texas, moves with his devoted, long-widowed daughter-in-law Lupe (Veronica Loren) to bunk with his surviving offspring. It doesn’t work out—with any of them. (They’re mostly thoughtless and self-involved; and who, in fact, turned up at the funeral only reluctantly.)

So like nomads, the duo try to pick up the pieces of their life. Saying “Women shouldn’t stay by themselves” Jaime wants Lupe to take chances and remarry. Nothing doing. She wants to remain to cook and care for him, and continually rebuffs the repeated proposals of Luis (Perez), a sincere young butcher’s assistant, who won’t take “no” for an answer. She doesn’t think she can start over. Yet, for better or worse, they both do.

Wistfully, he says: “I thought that by this time I’d be in Mexico in a house surrounded by my children and grandchildren. Things turned out different.” As the film concludes, it’s with a message: Life can be disappointing, even in the best of times.

For the two standout leads, Eska cast first-time actors who wear their roles like so many pairs of comfortable old shoes, truly, madly, deeply imbuing their reel characters with remarkable emotional range: the middle-aged Pedro Castaneda, who, as the press notes say, “currently co-owns a small tow-truck business in San Antonio” and whose “Performer Skills” on the IMDb are listed as “Motorcyclist, Medical Equipment, Pilot”; and Veronica Loren (no…no relation), a sometime model whose striking looks are reminiscent of Raquel Welch in her younger days. They’re both so real, their feelings ring so true, you can practically reach out and touch them. They’re unforgettable.

So is the film.

Awards: Before its national release, AUGUST EVENING made the rounds of various film festivals, garnering a host of kudos, including:

* The Independent Spirit Award: John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature (made for under a half-million);

* LA Film Festival- Best Feature Film (recouping its cost with the $50,000 prize from the Target Award, and Outstanding Performance for the ensemble of Casteneda, Loren, Perez, Becerra, Florez

* Ashland Independent Film Award Best Feature

* Phoenix Film Festival-Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography

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