Every once in a while, even if less frequently then before, a gem emerges from Mexico to remind us of the country's rich cinematic and cultural legacy that even inspired Latin America. A simple storyline layered in textures, and the rustic charm exhibited through native light and colour mark Aarón Fernández Lesur's meditative romantic drama "Las horas muertas" [Eng. Title: The Empty Hours] as one such gem worth adoring.
The film begins with seventeen year old Sebastian (Kristyan Ferrer) being hired by his uncle to manage his seaside motel while he travelled to town for essential medical check-up. It is Sebastian's summer vacation, and his mum too wants him to be doing something 'useful'. Sebastian will have to ensure the smooth functioning of his uncle's establishment by hiring necessary staff, and in their absence also performing their tasks.
"The most important thing in this business", he heard his uncle say, "is discretion". Especially so, since most of the clientèle using the motel prefer to conduct their affairs in anonymous privacy. Sebastian understands this well, and seamlessly embraces the requirement. It's not that Sebastian is even vaguely interested in the goings on at the motel - he's wise enough not to get himself distracted.
Unlike though Miranda (Adriana Paz) - one of the motel's patrons who regularly hires a room to rendezvous with a married and routinely unpunctual lover. The hours waiting for him give her plenty of time to observe clientèle come and go, and her inquisitiveness draws her to strike a banter with Sebastian. She's curious about his personal life, and the sordid details of other motel guests' shenanigans. Sebastian finds her more fascinating instead, even if he's quite aware of her all too active sex life.
We get to observe Miranda's life separately in equal if not greater detail; running her flailing real estate business, having "missed the marriage boat", content with her apparently non-committal relationships, and going through her own fleeting moments of disillusionment, despair, and longing. It's an exquisite character-study in the allocated screen-time, and Ms. Paz delivers a nuanced performance in the process.
The film is as much about Miranda as it's about Sebastian, observed dispassionately from a distance. Yet they succeed in relating to viewers in an intimate manner and we soon start caring for them. Their brief interactions against the backdrop of the melancholic seaside motel, where little else seems to happen, draw us into their world of hope, desire, and individual boredoms, tinged with unsentimental pragmatism. While sex pervades the film's atmosphere - be it the couples secretively conducting affairs at the motel, or Sebastian developing a crush on Miranda, it doesn't get bogged down by trying to adhere to any formula. Rather, it organically pursues its characterisation devoid of any moral concerns or overtones. The cinematography is appealing and the editing is crisp when necessary - a well-directed film that must surely be Highly Recommended Viewing..!
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The Nudity: Adriana Paz, Sergio Lasgón, and Kristyan Ferrer
There are two fairly long scenes containing nudity in which the director explores the main characters. They don't talk about anything particularly deep during the scenes - just post-coital chat; first between Miranda and her married lover, and later between Miranda and Sebastian. We will nevertheless get to know them a lot better.