Sunday, April 27, 2008

Film review: La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)

I rarely get out to the theater these days though I watch more films per week than the average person -- I just do so from home. So it was a treat to go out with friends last night. That they took me to see La Misma Luna, or Under the Same Moon, made it a double treat.

I was attracted to this film for several reasons. First, it was a serious film tackling a serious issue. Second, the story line was compelling and interesting. Third, the story itself is informative. Fourth, it portrays the lengths to which people will go to be with those they love. Fifth, it shows the role that government plays in stifling the happiness of individuals. Sixth, the cast for the film was perfect, the acting was superb, the dialogue was believable, the plot was compelling. You get my drift. For me this film was as near to perfection as I could reasonable expect.

Filmed in Mexico and the United States La Misma Luna tells the story of a family split by the American border and circumstances. The back story is that Rosario Reyes, who is played superbly by Kate del Castillo, has a young son, Carlitos, played by Adrian Alonso. Rosario’s husband left her and she is left to provide for Carlitos by herself. She makes the difficult decision to leave the boy with her mother, Benita, while she seeks work in the United States.

Every Sunday morning at 10 am Rosario calls a pay phone where Carlitos is waiting to speak to her. Her absence of four years is breaking both their hearts. But the money Rosario earns by cleaning people’s home provides the cash which she sends to Mexico to keep her son fed, clothed and educated.

Benita’s health is obviously an issue. She is the only one who can really care for the boy, other than his mother. But her death forces the boy’s hand. He takes the money he has saved from what his mother sent him and begins a journey across the border to be with his mother.

Throughout the process the United Government stands ready to prevent the boy from being with his mother. His first obstacle is crossing the border but with the funds he has saved he finds a way. He faces the dangers of crossing illegally because he must.

But once in Texas he faces the difficulty of getting to Los Angeles while avoiding La Migra (immigration authorities) and other scoundrels. Along the way Carlitos learns the difficult plight of the immigrant worker and realizes just how much his mother must love him to endure that life.

Carlitos is forced to team up with others in order to survive. Unfortunately for him his first “friend” is a junkie who is only helping because the boy has money that he wants. But when the money is lost the junkie, in desperation for cash, decides to trade Carlitos to some unsavory individuals for the money the boy had promised him. Only the intervention of a local woman prevents the transaction and she takes it upon herself to help Carlitos get to Los Angeles to be with his mother.

Through various circumstances, again involving the hated La Migra, Carlitos finds himself in the company of Enrique. Enrique is played by Eugenio Derbez. But Derbez clearly didn’t learn the lesson about never starring in a film with dogs or children. Derbez may be one of Mexico’s most popular actors but tis Alonso who steals scene after scene.

The juxtaposition of Carlitos and Enrique is fascinating. Enrique is the fish out of water, the adult who doesn’t how to be an adult. He lacks the self confidence that Carltio exudes. Carlitos walks into any situation and masters it through a combination of charm, intelligence and hard work. At one point it becomes unclear as to exactly who is protecting whom. Alonso never flubs his role for a moment. He is a child who plays an adult trapped in a child’s body.

Along the way Carlitos sees the plight of illegal immigrant workers. He realizes that their illegal status means they are easy victims for the unscrupulous types who prey on the vulnerability of others. As the film moves back and forth between the parallel stories of mother and son we also see what Rosario must do in order to survive. She cleans the homes of wealthy Americans for a low salary. When one employer decides to fire her Rosario asks for her back pay only to be told she can’t have it. The employer taunts her with a telephone challenging her to call the police and then saying: “Oh, that’s right. You can’t. You’re an illegal.”

This sort of exploitation, of course, is the plight of anyone who is a legal outsider. That is, someone who is not violating the rights of anyone else, but who is considered a criminal by the law. Such situations always subjects the outsider to exploitation by the unscrupulous. (Another film that portrays this reality, though in a different context, is Victim with Dirk Bogarde, 1961.)

La Misma Luna is a winner. It not only tackles a controversial topic but does so without sermonizing. The plot is believable and the dialogue avoids being cheesy or melodramatic. Each of the roles seems perfectly cast, including an appearance by America Ferrara of Ugly Betty fame. This is more than a film with a good libertarian message, it is a film that works as a film. I recommend it highly to anyone who loves good films or who cares about individual freedom. If you are passionate about both then run to theater now. See the trailer below.

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