Monday, July 6, 2009

Lake Tahoe -- helpless becomes helper

Director: Fernando Eimbcke, 2008.

There are slow films and there are SLOW films. Lake Tahoe, a Mexican film, is certainly one of the latter.

Juan (Diego Catano) crashes his red Nissan against a pole and spends the rest of the film searching for a way to get it fixed so he can drive it home. Along the way he interacts with several people in the old and dusty, semi-abandoned Mexican town he calls home.

Eimbcke frequently uses long-take shots where the camera doesn't move but the actors do. We see Juan walk slowly from one side of the screen to the other. And the camera stays on the take even after he has exited the shot. Add to this the long blackouts, that last several seconds with sound still playing and bring us to a new scene. This is a most atypical movie.

Juan's crash occurs during one of the blackouts so it is unclear what caused the crash. But he takes it stoically. Indeed, Juan seems to be a young man devoid of emotion. As he walks the streets looking for an auto-shop, he is searching for something more than just the distributor harness. He is searching for meaning to make sense of what has happened in his life.

In some ways Juan is a metaphor for all of us. We are all searching for something. We all want to discover meaning, to make sense of life. We don't always find the answer. When we do, it is cathartic. It is like finding the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. But for some, that piece proves elusive.

Juan passes a number of closed auto-repair shops before he comes to Don Heber's (Hector Herrera). But walking in, he comes face to face with Sica, a huge golden boxer dog. Don Heber tells Juan what the problem is but does not have the part, so Juan has to find a parts store. That is where he meets David (Juan Carlos Lara II) and Lucia (Daniela Valentine), two more offbeat characters. Lucia is a young, single mom while David is a mechanic by trade and a Bruce Lee fan and Shaolin acolyte by choice.

When David takes Juan to his home for the part, his mother prepares breakfast. David offers Juan a Shaolin book, but his mom offers him the gospel. As she preaches on the resurrection out of 1 Cor 15, David tells her to leave Juan in peace. "In peace, that's how I want him to leave," she retorts. But Juan simply leaves. Juan does not find meaning in Buddhism or Christianity.

David's mom gives an illustration of Paul's admonition to "make the most of every opportunity" (Col. 4:5). This was her one and only interaction with Juan and she seized the moment. However, she had no relational connection to him, and this overt evangelizing (by both her and her son) was enough to drive Juan away. We need to pay attention to the first part of this verse: "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders." We cannot simply throw the gospel into the faces of unbelievers; this is akin to casting pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:6). We need to be sensitive and selective.

As Juan seeks help from Don Heber, Lucia and David, they in turn ask him for help. Don Heber wants him to walk Sica and Lucia wants him to watch her child. Neither works out the way they think. Isn't this just like life!

While Juan is in need of help, he finds the opportunity to help others. And he does not refuse. This is the essence of ministry -- serving others. While David's mom sought to impose her beliefs on Juan without invitation, service often provides openings for the gospel. Even if it doesn't, serving others is the essence of the gospel. As Jesus said of himself, "Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28).

When Juan later takes Don Heber in search of Sica, they find the dog. Lost no more, but this loss was perhaps for the best. Juan, too, seems to find something that makes sense of his situation enabling him to emerge from his emotionless state. Like his car, brokeness can be repaired. Like his car, it might take patience to work through. There is hope even when all seems grim and depressing.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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