Opening with a Spanish cover of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind, the laidback rhythm of this angst-laden classic sets the tone for Club Sandwich (2013), a perfectly paced, acutely observed portrayal of a mother-son relationship. Paloma (María Renée Prudencio) and her teenage son, Hector (Lucio Giménez Cacho), are holidaying in the off season near the beach and we are introduced to them as they prepare for a pool side sun soak with some sensible sun cream application. Their resulting lack of activity consists of lying still, ordering the titular hotel snack and watching TV. The two appear to share a peaceful coexistence and an intimacy demonstrable of a friendship rare between parent and child.
Director Fernando Eimbcke frames his pair of sun soaked companions using mostly still shots that take in the sparseness of their resort and its empty spaces devoid of other guests. Sensitive sound design allows the quiet to inform the small moments between Paloma and Hector – their gentle critique of each other’s swimwear, or uninterrupted underwater games played with glee – and there’s something satisfying about being granted access to their peaceful world. Both Prudencio and Giménez Cacho are both immensely authentic performers, with a chemistry that establishes their unembarrassed familial closeness instantly. Enter Jazmina (Danae Reynaud Romero), a reserved, 16-year-old who offers cool calamine comfort to Hector one day when she finds him sunburnt by the pool.
Having established Paloma and Hector’s isolated holidaying, the presence of any other guests at the resort is a neat reveal, and Jazmina’s status as the only other young person anywhere proves to be the only requirement for her and Hector to strike up an attachment. Meeting secretly in each other’s fan-cooled hotel rooms, a tentative exploration of their adolescent bodies begins, with the first moment of intimacy hurriedly abandoned by the unexpected arrival of Paloma on her way to the bathroom. Once mother has discovered her son’s new companion, the inevitable rearrangement of Hector’s allegiance occurs, with Paloma at first attempting to include Jazmina as though a pair of friends had become a trio, and quickly accepting she might be a third wheel. Navigating their way through an emerging intimacy, Reynaud Romero and Giménez Cacho are remarkable in their brave and tender scenes together. Shifting from desire-fuelled exposure to terrified denial in each snatched moment of sexual curiosity at once struck down when – without the luxury of autonomy – they cannot escape adult intrusion.
Though on paper the action of Club Sandwich seems minimal, what Eimbcke narrows in on so effectively, is the heartbreak of a parent watching their child grow before their eyes, and realising they need to step back in order to let it happen. In an extraordinarily subtle performance, Prudencio conveys the dilemma of parental consent – broaching the uncomfortable sexual health conversation and expressing so convincingly Paloma’s unconditional love. A scene in which a game of Punishment sees her witness Jazmina performing a ‘sexy’ dance for her son represents the true tipping point in their previously protected world – and Prudencio’s expression conveys the shock and sadness of realising that from this point, nothing will be the same again. By creating so successfully a world of familial tenderness, set in the frustrated heat of holiday time with an attention to behavioural detail utterly convincing, Eimbcke has crafted a film so inviting it’s a genuine disappointment when the credits roll.