O Pato Vinha Cantando (The Duck Came Just Singing)

in 19th Guadalajara International Film Festival

by Lucy Virgen

Catharsis is a point of no return, a “cleansing, liberation or deep inner change caused by an experience” according to Mr. Webster. How exactly this moment can be attained is a recurring subject for cinema. Drugs, a character’s influence, as well as extreme circumstances — either dictated to by nature or artificially, the latter most of the time, evil forces are the most common script tools used. Catharsis — difficult to find in real life, and difficult to portray in cinema — provides the climax, but not the only point of interest in “Duck Season” (Temporada de patos), awarded as best film, Mexican Section, by the International Federation of Cinema Critics (FIPRESCI) at the recent Mexican and Ibero-American Muestra held in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The tool of choice of Fernando Eimbcke, first time scriptwriter and director of “Duck Season”, was old fashioned pot, seemingly light in these crack-filled times, plus the “extreme” circumstance of four characters stuck in an apartment in chaotic Mexico City. Two teenage boys, nicknamed Moko (Snot) and Flama (Flame), are spending a Sunday home alone. The first one is trying to decide with which parent to stay after their impending divorce. Video games, pizza, and large glasses of Coke are the plan until literally the “girl next door” drops in and takes over the kitchen; the pizza delivery man won’t accept the delay and demands to be paid. We have a foursome who pay homage to the Fab Four, although none of which can play an instrument, just pluck some strings, while the opening song from the soundtrack “O Pato” talks about a quartet of birds of a feather.

We begin to realize this director — what is his name? is this his first feature? — is good at managing to keep his characters inside the apartment, locked in, in a subtle, “Exterminating Angel” kind of way. There is really nothing that stops these four people from going out and going ahead with their lives, but, one way or another, no one crosses the door for seven hours of cinematographic time; one and a half hours of real time.

This is an everyday situation abstracted in fake black and white; boredom shot in an entertaining way. The actors have a naturalistic way of performing, which make it difficult to tell if this is good acting or just good casting. For three of the four, it’s too early in their careers to tell, but they keep focused all the time, so we can have hope.

During the first 25 minutes the film sets the scene and then throws the question in: what do you do when there’s nothing to do? Then, when you expect a screwball comedy, there are moments of tension, moments of anguish, some laughs, moments of almost Zen-like meditation. Starting with the dedication and the first song, “O Pato”, the film is full of homages and filmic in-jokes as well as musical references, but it doesn’t stop there; it keeps working with the audience, touching on relationships, growing pains, the doubts of love and desire, the frustration of starting a career, getting the job you should instead of the one you wish for… Life as it is in any city of the planet, the blessings of globalization.

It would be highly unfair to the director and the whole production team to say that “Duck Season” won nine prizes and had no close competitor in Guadalajara. With this statement a possible viewer could think this was “a little movie above the rest”, when actually it’s a good one. To deliver a film where it seems nothing happens and at the same time to witness a complete life in brief and then see it changed is no small accomplishment. The old melodrama bromide “Nobody remains the same” is still true here; while just a few drops of blood and sweat with no tears are spilled. To watch four people get high without making you feel you are the only sober one, the only bored one at the party — a task not even the talented filmmaker Terry Gilliam could accomplish in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” — is remarkable for any director.