The short film El Aguacate hinges on something that’s unspoken and unconsidered for most of the time its narrative is playing out; there’s a question that might occur to viewers early on that, as the film continues to draw them in, they’re likely to push to the back of their minds until it resurfaces in a way that changes everything.
That’s very much by design, and it isn’t merely a clever misdirect on the part of the filmmakers. Instead, writer/director Darwin Serink has a timely point to make about how some of the harshest realities of our current sociopolitical climate can impact ordinary lives. By establishing a charming and easy rhythm that invites the audience to let its guard down, El Aguacate is able to deliver its central message – which, like the film’s climax, is best left unspoiled – as a powerful and bracing blindside.
The film, for much of its roughly 10-minute running time, is nominally a very sweet, affectionately observed romance between two Spanish-speaking senior-citizen characters living in America and working for a custodial services company. Raul (Toneey Acevedo) cleans the same office every Saturday with Rosa (Tina D’Marco), and despite his advanced age, he has a schoolboy-ish crush on her but – quite endearingly – hasn’t been able to summon the courage to ask her out. The closest thing to a romantic overture he can manage each time he sees Rosa is to share an avocado (always picked with care from a tree in his yard) during the longed-for lunch breaks they spend with one another. The film’s story picks up just as Raul finally decides that, next time he and Rosa are together, he’s going to take the risk of inviting her on a date.
“…despite his advanced age, he has a schoolboy-ish crush on her…”
That alone could make for a charming little movie, particularly considering how likable and sympathetic its leads are. The soft-spoken Acevedo develops a nicely rounded character that combines an almost childlike enthusiasm with steely determination and some obvious world-weariness; D’Marco, meanwhile, delivers some genuinely affecting quiet moments of nervousness and uncertainty that nicely complement the innocence and naivety of Raul’s puppy-dog infatuation. Family photos and cherished mementos, fleetingly captured in the backgrounds of shots, suggest that neither Raul nor Rosa has lived a lonely life, but nevertheless, only an unimaginably hard-hearted viewer wouldn’t wish for the two of them to spend their dwindling years in each other’s arms. The film’s crisp handheld cinematography, sun-dappled lighting, and tentative, plainspoken dialogue add considerably to its warm, wistful tone.
Sadly, though, El Aguacate has more to reflect than youthful love between elderly people, and while spelling things out would be inappropriate and would, at least somewhat, negate its carefully orchestrated effect, suffice to say that the film’s closing moments don’t offer the hoped-for resolution that its earlier scenes so irresistibly promise. As disheartening as that is, though, the film is bound to make one think about why things are the way they are, and its approach feels very much right even if it doesn’t always make one feel good. This is truly a disarming little film, one that touches on both the loveliness of humanity and the callousness of the situation it’s found itself in as of late.
El Aguacate (The Avocado) (2018) Written and directed by Darwin Serink. Starring Toneey Acevedo, Tina D’Marco, Tess Niedermeyer, Johnny Smith, Shawn Cahill, Jason Catron. El Aguacate (The Avocado) made its world premiere at the 2018 Dances With Films.
8 out of 10