Opening 9 Jul 2009
Would anyone choose to live this way? That is the question underlying this film and the overall debate about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Fortunately, contrary to twenty years ago, filmmakers need no longer confine their efforts to stories with gut-wrenching narratives and graphic details of a film like El Norte to communicate the complexity of the personal, cultural, social and economic factors which inform the debate about illegal immigrants. Director Patricia Riggen was wise to focus the film on the one mother, Rosario (Kate Castillo), and her decision to leave her son Carlitos to give him what is arguably a better future. The film switches between Rosario’s precarious life as an L.A. cleaning lady and Carlito’s (Adrian Alonso) life with his elderly grandmother in Mexico City. Since his mother left five years ago, Carlitos’ only contact with his mother is a weekly phone call every Sunday morning. Now aged nine, faced with his grandmother’s untimely death, and bearing the separation no longer, Carlitos decides to immigrate to the U.S. With only his sunny demeanor, intelligence and resourcefulness to support him on an epic journey to L.A., we are left to wonder how opponents of legalizing undocumented workers in the U.S. can limit the debate to the costs of immigration and not include the causes underlying their decision to live under such circumstances. The film editing and cross-cutting heightens the short-changed quality of immigrants’ and their families’ lives along the border.
Thanks to the excellent performances of a highly professional supporting cast including Carmen Salinas, Maria Rojo and Eugenio Derbez as Enrique, Carlitos’ reluctant protector, the film develops seamlessly. The short screen appearances of Mario Almada and Los Tigres del Norte lend the film further authenticity. Mario Almada is the godfather hero of a million norteno films about life along the wild border while the norteno music of Los Tigres del Norte acts both as soundtrack and oral history of the lives of the working poor on both sides of the border.
Some critics may find the film lacking in power due to the absence of overt political discourse, but Ms. Riggen’s film still makes a very valid point. The fortuitous appearance of good people along Carlitos’ journey to the U.S. and a good dose of humor are the only things that enable us to watch the film when we should otherwise look away in shame that millions of children and their mothers must live this way. (Rita Pearson Schwandt)