Lake Tahoe is the kind of film that proves the old axiom true: looks can certainly be deceiving. Its slowness and stillness hide its comic sensibility. Its lightest moments cover over something deeper and more menacing. And that churning menace masks a hard-won hopefulness and sense of expectation that undergirds the entire film.
Opening on a sandy but desolate landscape, director Fernando Eimbcke holds a stationary and extremely wide shot for several seconds, with only the sounds of wind and a far off automobile accompanying the stark imagery. Eventually the opening image fades to black, and when the picture returns, the camera has moved in much closer. Now a road sits in plain view, with a few telephone poles lined up on the far side of the street, while the wind and that passing automobile remain evident to the ear. After several more seconds and another fade, we get the sound of a car crash against the black screen. When the image returns, a red Nissan has crunched its front bumper into a telephone pole.
As the teenaged driver exits his vehicle, it’s clear that the car won’t start. And evidently without a phone (and none in sight), he begins to walk. What follows is a slightly surreal or absurd journey of a young man in search of a repair. As he moves through what appears to be a largely desolate town, Eimbcke uses the fade to black as a buffer between each sequence. The directorial choice stands out a first, but also allows the film to settle into a kind of rhythm, a bit like breathing. This rhythmic breathing throughout the film contrasts strongly with the circumstances of the young protagonist, whose life is even more out of control than it initially seems.
The form of the film, both in the stillness of its camera and its consistent rhythm provide an effective counterpoint to Lake Tahoe’s main narrative arc. This strengthens the dramatic tension only hinted at in the story over the course of the film. That Eimbcke is able to create this kind of tension with such a pulled back narrative is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker. I look forward to seeing more from this exciting young director.