Big Movie, Little Budget

August Evening Running time 127 minutes Written and directed by Chris Eska Starring Pedro Castaneda, Veronica Loren, Abel Becerra Chris

August Evening
Running time 127 minutes
Written and
directed by Chris Eska
Starring Pedro Castaneda, Veronica Loren, Abel Becerra

Chris Eska’s August Evening, from his own screenplay (in English and Spanish with English subtitles), was reportedly filmed for what is described in the production notes as an ultra-low budget of under $40,000. The 32-year-old Mr. Eska has already won for this, his debut feature film, the 2008 Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award, given to a feature film with a budget of under $500,000; the Best Film Awards at the Los Angeles and Woodstock Film Festivals; and the Best Ensemble Award from the Los Angeles Film Festival. With this kind of buildup, you probably expect me to start raining on Mr. Eska’s parade. Not at all. I recommend the film wholeheartedly, though it runs a tad long at 127 minutes. Still, I can understand how Mr. Eska became so emotionally attached to his characters that he could not bear to let them go into the void of the Great Beyond where all narratives end up sooner or later. The important thing is that he gets us attached to them, too, so that we shouldn’t mind if he skips over several possible endings to show us his elderly protagonist, an undocumented Mexican farm worker, Jaime (Pedro Castaneda), walking alone to a distant horizon with an uncertain future in store for him.

When we first meet Jaime, he is cheerfully being tended by his wife, Maria (Raquel Gavia), and their devoted widowed daughter-in-law, Lupe (Veronica Loren). Mr. Castaneda had never acted before in his relatively long life as the son of migrant farmers. He grew up to attend medical school in Mexico, earn a pilot’s license and learn how to build and install wireless networks. He now co-owns a small downtown towing business in San Antonio, where he lives with his family. I mention his background because he gives what I judge to be one of the most lustrously lived-in performances I have ever seen on the screen. No wonder Mr. Eska could not bear to part with him.

When Jaime’s wife, Maria, dies, Lupe decides she must continue taking care of Jaime even if it means that she will remain un-remarried, a prospect that disturbs Jaime no end. When Luis (Walter Perez), a butcher’s apprentice, becomes interested in Lupe, she discourages his ardor in every way she can.

Jaime loses his job, and he and Lupe are forced to the home of Jaime’s son, Victor (Abel Becerra), where he lives with his wife and two children. In the kind of scene I remember from an old Ozu film, Jaime quickly perceives that Victor has not been doing too well despite his bursts of bravado during his brief visits to Jaime and Maria. Tensions rise between Lupe and Victor’s wife, and Lupe and Jaime are forced to move again.

In the end, Luis overcomes Lupe’s resistance, and they are married with Jaime’s blessing. The curious thing is that Lupe is not even Jaime’s natural daughter, and yet she is closer to him than his own flesh and blood would have been. One can say that not all that much happens in the course of the small, humble scenes that form the lives of these modestly alien presences in our midst, but Mr. Eska and cinematographer Yasu Tanida have fashioned an exquisite tapestry of the materially unencumbered, one that drives the narrative forward at every turn. August Evening is infinitely more absorbing and entertaining than we had any right to expect from such simple and undemanding creatures. Big Movie, Little Budget