The clatter of dishes and murmur of voices populate the background of the opening scene of Katherine Jerkovic’s sophomore feature “Coyote.” Framed in a medium close-up against a plain wall, Camilo (Jorge Martinez Colorado) speaks to someone off-screen. As he describes his past experience, it’s quickly clear that this is a job interview. Camilo, a widower approaching middle-age, used to cook, and even used to own an acclaimed restaurant called Le Coyote. But it’s been a while since he’s been in the restaurant game; he’s been working as a janitor in Montreal. But Camilo is ready to make a change, even if that means moving away from the city when an old friend offers him a position as the chef at his restaurant.
Of course, they say to always expect the unexpected, and that unexpected shows up suddenly on Camilo’s doorstep one day. His estranged daughter Tania (Eva Avila), who he hasn’t seen in years and who broke his trust in her with her self-destructive habits has come home, and she needs a favor. Tania has a five-year-old son named Zachary (Enzo Desmueles Saint-Hilaire), and she needs Camilo to look after him while she goes to rehab for three weeks in an effort to try to kick her addiction once and for all.
Camilo, after initially declining, eventually relents, but “Coyote” is not the predictably sweet family drama you’d expect from the premise. There is some bonding that occurs between the reluctant grandfather and the little boy who has been taken away from the one steady presence in his life and thrust in the care of a man he doesn’t know, but it’s more that they reach an understanding in their relationship than love. That’s not to say that love won’t come later; if there’s something about “Coyote” that prompts it to not be a wholly satisfying viewing experience in its final act, it’s that it reflects the messiness of life and relationships so accurately that it ends feeling like we are leaving the characters in some state of limbo, clearly transitioning to the next phase of their lives but not convincing the audience that they—Camilo specifically—have made peace with their choices.
But Jerkovic’s naturalistic style largely works for this small scale story packed with heart. She spends a lot of time with Camilo before introducing Tania and Zachary, allowing us to become familiar with him and his routine (he’s clumsy with technology, to the point where his younger coworker and friend needs to help him reset his password to complete a job application), his past regrets (it was money lent to his daughter because of her troubles that forced him to close his restaurant) and his desires for his future. Colorado’s soulful performance helps guide the story. Just when it seems like he’s perhaps appearing too stoic in the face of fraught reunions and surprising revelations, he has a private moment where, clutching a stuff toy that belonged to his daughter, he breaks down.
By the time “Coyote” reaches its conclusion, we can start to see the formulation of a new family. Camilo may feel like he’s at a crossroads in his life, but Jerkovic surrounds him with other people at similar points. Tania is trying to improve herself for her son’s sake. Camilo’s friend is trying to finish school. And his neighbor who watches Zachary while he works night shifts is a European immigrant, a journalist exiled from her country for political reasons who now works as a caregiver for some local children. “Coyote” ultimately has less to say about it never being too late to make a new start and more about navigating and finding peace with whatever situation life throws at you, but the heartfelt interactions between the characters and Jerkovic’s observant eye make this sensitive family drama a sweet and soothing watch.
Runtime: 89 minutes.