Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Better Life

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

A Better Life (directed by Chris Weitz, screenplay by Eric Eason and story by Roger L. Simon) is IMHO a remarkably good adaptation of the basic storyline of the classic post-war Italian film by Vittorio De Sica, Bicycle Thieves.

In this contemporary version, a humble Mexican (undocumented) gardener named Carlos Galindo (played by Damián Bichir) living and working in Los Angeles trying to create a better life for himself and his 14-year old son Luis (played by José Julián) is offered by his partner/boss, Blasco Martinez (played by Joaquín Cosio) Blosco’s truck along with his gardening tools.  Blasco has made his nest egg and is going back to Mexico to buy his “ranchito” (little farm).  Carlos understands the benefits of having his own truck and tools, but doesn’t really have the money. 

The consequences of not taking up his boss’ offer become clear to Carlos as well.  He’s been working with Blosco for years.  Without Blosco’s truck (and clients), he realizes that he’s going to be back on a street corner competing for work with countless other equally desperate undocumented workers.  So after a few days, Carlos asks his married sister Anita (played by Dolores Heredia), who also lives in Los Angeles, for some help with the money.  Anita comes through giving him the money but without telling her usually stingy husband, and Carlos buys the truck.

So smiling from ear-to-ear, proud as can be, Carlos heads-off with his truck and tools to the corner where he knows Mexican daylaborers wait looking for work, and even hires a man who helped him out a few days earlier when he was still undecided about buying the truck.  However, Carlos proves too trusting.  While he’s up on a palm tree trimming the branches, this man, Santiago (played by Carlos Linares) steals his truck.  And only then does Carlos realize that all he knew about him was his first name (if that even was his name ...).

Devastated, Carlos returns home without his truck.  It’s at this point that Luis, his son, who up until now had been a typically moody young teenager, who given his latchkey existence had even flirted with joining a gang, realizes the seriousness of what just happened and decides to help his father then look for the truck. 

And the two do have some leads.  Carlos may not have known Santiago all that well, but some of the men who wait at that street corner for work know a bit more.

The rest of the movie continues to follow the basic trajectory of the Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, with appropriate adaptations.  In this story, Carlos was Mexican and undocumented after all...  His son is also a somewhat older than son of the father in De Sica’s story.  Still the film works and tells a very, very poignant and _tearful_ story.

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