A Film for Dreamers: Mike Ott's Lake Los Angeles

   A solitary Joshua tree, branches stretched but askew, wilts toward a barren wasteland and casts a stunted shadow across a vast expanse. This is Lake Los Angeles, the setting for Mike Ott's latest film of the same name. A former holiday resort replete with a man-made stretch of water has long since been abandoned and dried up; the American Dream left to shrivel and die. The location, theme and characters found here all tell the same tale. 

   Here is the story of two souls caught on the outside and looking in to the happiness and riches of the United States. Francisco (Roberto Sanchez) is a Cuban exile who wiles away his days working in a holding house for illegal immigrants. Cecilia (Johanna Trujillo) is a 10-year old Mexican who has crossed the border without her family. Both dream of a better tomorrow.

   Yet, rather than a land of opportunities where the streets are paved with gold, the America the pair encounter is a much more drab and desolate place. The grass isn't greener - instead the land is weathered and bleak. Signs of life are few and far between.

   Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (who also lensed Ott's previous feature Pearblossom HWY) gives the film a hazy, fantastical quality - the landscapes and the universe of Lake Los Angeles seem to exist in the twilight world between the prosaic and the profound, the humdrum and the euphoric. As Cecilia looks across a nearly featureless landscape she stands isolated staring into an unbearable, existential emptiness. She is alone in every way imaginable - the physical make-up of the universe mockingly reminds her of this.


   Ott's films too appear to exist in a similar magic hour between reality and fiction, documentary and drama - here he and co-writer Atsuko Otatsuko sculpt a movie based on real life experiences but imbibe it with a sense of magic. In a purgatory where green shoots are rare, hope is one thing which nourishes.

   Perhaps Ott's most sober feature to date (in no small part due to Cory Zacharia's screen-time being reduced to a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo), Lake Los Angeles is nevertheless a movie which slots seamlessly into the director's admirable filmography. Boasting an empathy and humanity rare in cinema, here is a film for those who yearn for more than the hand life has dealt them - a love letter of wounded prose for outsiders, a film for and about dreamers. A piece of art to comfort the solitary and the lonesome.
   
   Lake Los Angeles is screening this week at the 20th LA Film Fest.
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