Monday, April 21, 2008

A marathon and a movie

Last week, I was walking past the nearby indie theatre, when an old lady rushed out from the exit and told me that Under the Same Moon was the best movie she'd seen in years, that all the other movies she's gone to see lately have been crap compared to it. (She said "junk," actually, not "crap" -- my interpretative license...)

I have no idea why she singled me out, of all the people ambling past on the street. I would like to think it has nothing to do with being perpetually mistaken for Latina, and that the film is about a Mexican kid and his young, hot mother. Maybe I reminded her of the mother? Ahem. Then again, maybe I just happened to be the first person she saw, after seeing a really great movie.

At any rate, while pretending I don't have a Legal Reasoning final paper to work on, I decided to head over and catch today's matinee.

Turns out, the Boston Marathon ran right by, so I stopped and cheered for random runners for a while, then walked around, window shopped, and headed back to the theatre.

The lady was right. Under the Same Moon/La Misma Luna (weirdly, no "under" in the Spanish title) was one of the best films I've seen in theatres in a long time. It was also the kind of film where you hear people sniffling and blowing their noses and/or sobbing quietly in a near-empty venue.

The story is about a nine-year-old kid named Carlos, whose mother crosses the Rio Bravo/Grande to try and make enough money to give him a better life. After four years, he decides to try and find her, but the only thing he knows about where in East LA she lives is that she calls him from a corner with a pizzeria, laundromat, and a mural (which describes, like, every street corner in East LA).

You know the ending. It's a tearjerker. But the middle is even more tear-jerky. The kid has a million close scrapes with what the subtitles call the INS but has been ICE for the past several years. His journey from El Paso to LA has him almost sold to a druglord for possible prostitution (we can infer), picking tomatoes, washing dishes, sleeping on park benches, almost getting robbed and killed by thieves, hitchhiking... And if the viewer misses that overly-obvious symbolic range of immigrant experiences, the radios and TVs constantly in the background hammer it home with news stories about Governor Schwarzenegger vetoing bills to let undocumented immigrants drive, and song lyrics about Superman being an illegale. And meanwhile, his mother is cleaning houses and sewing dresses for a pittance.

Naturally, the blatant political statement made me very favorably inclined toward the film. But I've seen badly-executed films (and I mean badly) whose blatant politics I agreed with (A Day Without a Mexican, for instance). But Under the Same Moon made the story focus on Carlitos' journey to find his mother; and their tale, like that of everyone else in the world, can only happen as it does due to their particular circumstances. It was a perfectly bittersweet story, with literally every other character as tragically tangential. (Eugenio Derbez, for instance, was hilarious as Carlitos' reluctant travel companion.)

Upon exiting the theatre, I did not accost the first person I saw to rave about the film. But I felt like it!

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