At the risk of overextending a writing-workshop maxim, great cinema often proves that the tale is in the telling. The primacy of visuals necessitates that how a story is told weighs more heavily on the film’s success than the nature of the story itself.
Such is the case with Aaron Fernandez’s The Empty Hours, a studied, coming-of-age narrative that makes a familiar tale sing. Set at a by-the-hour seaside motel in Veracruz, the picture follows 17-year-old Sebastian (Kristyan Ferrer) as he starts managing the establishment. With little human contact and plenty of free time, Sebastian’s curiosity gets the best of him, as he can’t help but eavesdrop and spy upon the various lovers coming and going. Sebastian develops a friendship with beautiful Miranda (Adriana Paz), whose lover is often late.
The next development — Miranda and Sebastian grow closer, with a flourish of sexual tension — may sound like it’s out of a Hollywood teen comedy, yet in Fernandez’s hands the story’s progression is anything but contrived. Full of long takes and matter-of-fact performances, melancholy low-contrast cinematography and desolate vistas suffused with acute loneliness, The Empty Hours captures the feeling of idling away the time, waiting for something to arrive.
Its characters are awaiting something — human connection, especially — and the painful atmosphere is depicted clearly enough that there is much pleasure to be taken in the bond, however tenuous, Sebastian and Miranda come to share.