Inspired by a childhood accident that befell director Fernando Eimbcke soon after his father’s death, this low-key character study is a beguiling paradox of Mexican suburban splendor masking personal grief. After he wrecks the family car, teenage Juan (Catao) wanders the outskirts of town seeking help. He stops into shops run by a wizened old man (Hector Herrera), a teen single mom (Valentine) and a kung fu fanatic (Lara), each offering assistance piecemeal over the course of the day.
The film’s siesta-speed pacing lets us bask in a cavalcade of sunny compositions, framed in ample CinemaScope dimensions. Nearly every shot is a joy to behold, especially given Eimbcke’s penchant for bringing out the quirky geometries of Mexican building facades: Dilapidated walls, sun-bleached storefronts and modular housing units are transformed into a community silently bursting with architectural personality.
These soothing open-air environs gain significance as the details of Juan’s family tragedy slowly materialize. Unable to deal with his own kin, our hero’s trek through his neighborhood streets buys time to regain his equilibrium (there’s even one building with the word ZEN writ large on its side). It’s a mysterious, alluring world that Eimbcke reveals to him and us, where both strangers and surroundings offer solace when family fails.—Kevin B. Lee