Flashing onto the screen and then fading away in languid rhythm, silently, views of a Mexico City residential quarter set the mood for Fernando Eimbcke's Duck Season (Temporada de Patos). The roof line of a housing project, tilting against the sky at a Dziga Vertov angle. A close-up of someone's bicycle chained to a lamppost, the rear wheel missing. Kids playing on a swing set in a lot beside a highway. A Volkswagen Beetle nosing slowly down a quiet street. A title tells you it's Sunday, 11 AM, when nothing much happens. The images are black-and-white, as if waiting to be completed by someone's act of imagination.
On the eighth floor of one of the project buildings, a woman nervously hurries off for the day. Did she remember to turn off the stove? Yes. Did she remember to turn off the coffee maker? Yes. Everything is secure for her 14-year-old son, Flama (Daniel Miranda), and his curly-headed buddy Moko (Diego Cataño), who can be expected to keep the apartment neat. Their only plan for the day: to play video games, drink Coke and munch on chips, without getting up from the sofa.
With one brief exception, everything from this point on will take place inside the little apartment, which despite the mother's hopes slowly fills with physical disorder and emotional unruliness. First the power goes out. Then an unknown neighbor comes knocking--16-year-old Rita (Danny Perea)--to ask if she can use the oven. Then the boys order pizza but won't pay the deliveryman, after he's run up eight flights of stairs, because he's eleven seconds late on the thirty-minute guarantee. Bespectacled and 30-ish, Ulises (Enrique Arreola) responds to this affront with more patience than exasperation, but he still refuses to be stiffed. Now that he's staying, too, four people are knocking about the apartment, feeling bored, edgy, anxious, angry, sad and horny. They have several more emotions, too--but those take a while to show themselves.
Think of Duck Season as being, in its sly way, a road movie. Although the characters don't go anywhere and the scenery doesn't change, a handful of people are nevertheless shut up together as if in a car, to experience the mundane passage of time and explore one another's natures. Even the title hints at road movies. The ducks figure in a painting of garage-sale provenance that hangs on the apartment wall: a picture of birds taking off for migration. A poignant image, especially for young people (and for an outsider from San Juan named Ulises). By the end of Duck Season, you understand that all these characters are taking off, too, no matter how stuck they seem.
Maybe, in fact, you understand too much. After the halfway point, Eimbcke's script ticks off its revelations with almost metronomic regularity, at a pace that lets in one or two more than you might want. But this is the only forced aspect of a film in which the actors seem to breathe their roles rather than perform them. Lovingly cast, suavely directed and always pitched perfectly, whatever its tone, Duck Season is the kind of small, quiet, thoughtful movie that ought to be as abundant as Sunday afternoons. Better hurry to see it, because another won't come around for months.