The comic coming-of-age drama Duck Season (Temporada de Patos) opens with a series of establishing shots outside the Nonoalco Tlatelolco Housing Development in Mexico City. The playgrounds are largely empty; the concrete grounds are designed with brute bleakness. From here, the film moves inside a cramped apartment in the complex where two friends, Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño), while away a lazy Sunday home alone.
Bored 14-year-olds, Flama is tall and wiry and Moko shorter and curly-haired. They wear the tentative ornaments of imminent teenage rebellion, a black studded bracelet and a Rancid T-shirt. After Flama’s mother leaves for work, the boys prepare for their day, pouring Coke to the absolute tops of their glasses, ordering pizza, setting the clock to time the 30 minute guarantee, arguing over who gets to play who in Halo. (They use the names “Bush” and “bin Laden” without political intent, the same lackadaisical reason my friends and I used O.J. trial monikers in my day.) They don’t speak of the looming change before them: Flama is about to move and neither knows how his Sundays will be spent in the future.
And so they find distraction in their game, barely looking up when Rita (Danny Perea), a slightly older neighbor, asks to use their oven. Their eyes remain locked on the television and their hands unconsciously jerking their Xbox controllers to the onscreen action. They do pay attention when the pizza deliveryman Ulises (Enrique Arreola) finally shows up, 11 seconds late. Flama refuses to pay him and Ulises refuses to leave without being paid. A power outage ends the game prematurely. The four, stuck inside, find new ways to entertain themselves, primarily through conversation.
The transition from the initial set-up to the four characters bonding is rickety and a bit forced. That Ulises waits to get paid is inexplicable and for stretches, they all list about and don’t appear to know what to do next. Eventually they pair off. Ulises tells Flama about his aimless life with a useless college degree and a series of dead-end jobs that reached a low point putting dogs to sleep at a pound (revealed in disturbing flashback); Rita enlists Moko’s help in baking the cake in hopes of making out with him.
The structure of the Duck Season is similar to that of The Breakfast Club, complete with pot-influenced heart-to-hearts, but in style it’s closer to a long tradition of modest, naturalistic youth portraits ranging from The 400 Blows to Raising Victor Vargas. Co-released by Alfonso Cuaron’s Esperanto Filmoj production company, it shares his approach to coming-of-age stories, insightful, respectful, and suffused with youthful whimsy and melancholy.
Unlike most youth films, which use visual kinetics as a primary tool, this one uses long static takes and occasionally distracting angles (shots from inside the oven or refrigerator). Editor Marianna Rodriguez provides a stubbornly steady rhythm that enhances the few moments of fast-paced action, as when the new friends shoot dinner plates with a bb gun, do headstands, or stuff themselves with junk food.
The staid images are offset by Eimbecke’s refreshing choice not to infuse his young characters with precocious cynicism or degeneracy. They are optimistic, as befits their age. Trapped within the apartment complex, the kids face a world outside that’s not much better, dirty and lonely. Flama is about to move away due to his parent’s custody battle; Moko struggles with intense feelings for Flama; Rita perceives her own family as negligent. For them, Ulises is a depressing portent of years to come. Still, he finds hope in a tacky painting of ducks, over which Flama’s parents are fighting, an effective symbol of the desire for change. His vision leaves open Duck Season‘s patchy, multi-layered tale of growing up.