Inspired by Yasujiro Ozu right down to its seasonal title, Chris Eska's first feature, August Evening, concerns the relationship between a middle-aged Mexican migrant and his widowed daughter-in-law. Although its plot has its share of melodramatic twists and tearful revelations, Autumn Evening focuses on the moments between, the mundane interactions that make up a life.
Lumpish, slow-moving Pedro Castaneda looks as if life has worn him down to the nub. In short order, he loses his wife, his job, and his home, and he and his late son's wife, Veronica Loren, are cast out into the world. He has two living children, but they're too busy with their own lives to have time for him. His son, who's also out of work, has enough trouble putting food on his family's table without having to care for his father, whose grey hair and potbelly makes it hard for him to find a place in the pickup trucks full of undocumented day laborers. His daughter, married to a wealthy, sympathetic gringo, has plenty of money, but her campesino dad mortifies her. As in Ozu's Early Summer (and any number of others), Castaneda's daughter-in-law is more devoted than his own children, so concerned with him that she doesn't notice her own loneliness.
Ultimately, what Eska doesn't take from Ozu is more important than what he does. His use of handheld video has none of Ozu's formal rigor or compositional beauty, which makes its longueurs feel more distended than poetic. The score, largely composed of ambient guitar fuzz (including a handful of Windy & Carl songs), tries to impart a degree of lyricism, but it feels slathered on rather than organic to the story, like Yo La Tengo's music for Old Joy. (That isn't all Eska borrows from Yo La Tengo: a pivotal conversation between Loren and her sweetly persistent suitor Abel Becerra nabs a few lines from "The Crying Of Lot G.") The unforced ease of the performances make August Evening an intermittent pleasure, but its images aren't strong enough to sustain its undisciplined length.