Be patient. Be very, very patient. That's the recommended mantra for watching "August Evening," a poignant film filled with ample rewards for those who submit to its leisurely pace and gentle observations. Writer-director-editor Chris Eska has turned a simple story of family bonds and immigrant hardships into a kind of mini-saga that quietly yet vividly sweeps us into its well-drawn characters' plainly compelling lives.
Nonprofessional actor -- and Eska discovery -- Pedro Castaneda sensitively inhabits the role of Jaime, a humble, undocumented laborer forced to leave rural Gonzales, Texas, after his beloved wife dies. Jaime, along with live-in, widowed daughter-in-law Lupe (Veronica Loren), travel to San Antonio, where they move in with Jaime's struggling son, Victor (Abel Becerra), and later with upwardly mobile daughter Alice (Sandra Rios).
Each living situation becomes fraught with familial tensions that send Jaime and Lupe -- as devoted a pair as any true father and daughter -- back to Gonzales, but not before Lupe meets Luis (Walter Perez), an endearing butcher who patiently woos her and sets some quantum changes into motion.
Though this artful film inches toward its not-unpredictable conclusion and could logically have ended several times before its final fadeout, I was sorry when it was over. How rare is that?
-- Gary Goldstein
"August Evening." MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes. In Spanish and English with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.
The background is oddly missing
Emotions run hot in the Italian import "Days and Clouds," an intriguing look at an affluent Genoa couple whose relationship crumbles after husband Michele (Antonio Albanese) loses his 20-year executive job, an embarrassing fact he hides for two months before informing his art restorer wife, Elsa (Margherita Buy).
Michele and Elsa are realistic characters, both as individuals and as a couple, and Albanese and Buy are excellent. All the domestic, social and financial indignities that result from Michele's unemployment -- and from Elsa's ill-equipped switch from midlife academia to the paid workplace -- are painfully palpable.
The script, however, by Doriana Leondeff, Francisco Piccolo, Frederica Pontremoli and director Silvio Soldini doesn't delve deeply enough into Michele and Elsa's past to set up their present dynamic (a passing reference to Michele's one-time infidelity notwithstanding). Yes, their lives have become a thankless grind with no end in sight, but that alone doesn't explain the disconnect that occurs between them, much less justify Michele's unforgivable bursts of anger.
Also unclear is why their restaurateur daughter, Alice (Alba Rohrwacher), is so hostile to her father. Back story, please. Nonetheless, "Days and Clouds" is an intelligent adult drama that's especially relevant in these harsh economic times.
-- Gary Goldstein
"Days and Clouds." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. In Italian with English subtitles. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; Laemmle's One Colorado, 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena, (626) 744-1224.
Star's real dream realized on screen
What's amazing is how Icelandic filmmaker Olaf de Fleur Johannesson managed to start out making a faux documentary on Filipina transsexual Raquela Rios and then turn it into a poignant narrative with "The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela." In essence, the vibrant Rios, a natural actress, inspired him to let her live out her dream on screen, and the two carry it off fearlessly, for Rios has a star's looks, personality and self-possession. Their film is a rarity in that Rios emerges as a vibrant, reflective woman, an individual who refuses to be defined by her transsexuality.
The actual Raquela, whose birth name is Earvin, dreams of a wealthy, good-looking, straight Westerner whisking her off to Europe or America, taking her to Paris and making her his wife. Johannesson came up with a far-flung plot that works because of the film's -- and its star's -- grit and high spirits. Rios plays a lowly office worker and sometime streetwalker who becomes an Internet porn star. Her gruff but intrigued New York-based employer (Stefan Schaefer) has profited from her sufficiently to take her on to Paris. Raquela Rios is so passionately alive her film gets away with an open ending -- as it has everything else.
-- Kevin Thomas
"The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela." Rated R for sexual content, language and some nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. At the Regent Showcase, 814 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. (323) 934-1770.
Its aim is true, but it manages to miss