Monday, April 7, 2014
For Love in the Caserio (orig. Por Amor en el Caserío) 
NBC Latino article
NY Times article
For Love in the Caserio (orig. Por Amor en el Caserío)  (directed by Luis Enrique Rodríguez Ramos, screenplay by Antonio Morales based on his own stage-play by the same name), which played recently to large enthusiastic audiences at the 30th Chicago Latino Film Festival is a film that deserves to be seen, especially by those "in the industry" looking for "young Hispanic talent" in, honestly, any/all areas (acting, direction, writing, cinematography, sound, editing, music...) involved in the making of a movie.
The film is based on the stage-play by Antonio Morales which he wrote when he was a teenager living in the Caserio Project, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the second largest public housing project on U.S. territory anywhere. In the 13 years since its initial production in 2001, the play has been staged over 500 times across Puerto Rico and has been seen by more than 50,000 people.
Director Luis Enrique Rodríguez Ramos in this his first feature-length venture DOES NOT DISAPPOINT either. His background is in advertising and music videos. Hence he crafts here a WELL-PACED, WELL-EDITED, VISUALLY MEMORABLE PRODUCTION that "POPS." I'm more-or-less positive that film-makers probably dread "cutting their teeth" working some years "in advertising," but I've seen it before (indeed, at this Festival a number of years back with a Brazilian film called Dia de Preto (Day of Black)  made by a team of three, also first-time feature-length film-makers, whose "day jobs" were ALSO "in advertising" back in Rio...) the skills learned in producing EYE-POPPING 30 second television commercials will serve one well in making a WELL-TIMED, WELL-EDITED, ENGAGING, VISUALLY INTERESTING FILM (OF ANY LENGTH) AS WELL.
Then regarding the leads Anoushka Medina and Xavier Morales who play the lovebirds Crystal and Ángelo in this almost necessarily Romeo and Juliet-like story. (ANY "teenage love story" set in a "gang infested neighborhood" is almost certainly going to fall back on "the Bard"), I'm glad to read that apparently the Mexico City based telenovela industry has already taken notice of Anoushka but it would not be a waste of time if film-makers or stage-play producers from Buenos Aires to Madrid to Hollywood, Miami and New York would take a look at her performance in this film as well. The next Penelope Cruz? Could be ;-). And regarding Xavier, he's almost certainly destined to play the current U.S. President Barrack Obama in _some_ Spanish-language production _somewhere_ in the years to come (Those who see the film will certainly know what I'm talking about as both his looks and even his demeanor fit our current President to a tee ;-).
What then of the story itself? I've already mentioned that the film follows (loosely) the trajectory of Romeo and Juliet. There's even an amusing balcony scene adapted _quite well_ to "The Projects." The story involves two drug gangs. Crystal's older brother leads one, Ángelo's cousin is in the other. The rest of the cast is filled-out with friends, relatives and neighbors of both.
Interestingly enough, while there are mothers, Godmothers and aunts of the teens in the story, with the exception of a male director of a drama club to which Crystal belongs, there's not a single adult male in the story at all, let alone one who could serve as a positive role model. So unlike in Romeo and Juliet where there were at least "patriarchs" of the Montagues and Capulets, in this film the leaders of both gangs were teens or young 20-somethings themselves with their mothers and tias (aunts) hating them for what they've chosen to do with their lives.
Does the story glorify gangs? This is not an idle question for me as in my "day job" I've done three gang funerals over the years (all of them memorable, none of them "in a good way"...). My answer here would be no. The story does not glorify the gangs, as it's hard to imagine how anyone seeing the play or movie to feel that it ended in any way resembling "well."
WHAT I THINK WAS VERY WELL DONE HOWEVER IN THE SCRIPT/PRODUCTION was a point that is often missed in the reporting on gang tragedies: No matter how otherwise Evil or misguided a gangster may otherwise have become, THERE ARE ALWAYS (REAL/SERIOUS) PEOPLE WHO LOVE(D) THAT GANGSTER AND (REAL/SERIOUS) PEOPLE THAT THE GANGSTER LOVED AS WELL. And I'm not talking here about "homeys" who are enablers / in the same boat as the gangster and don't necessarily deserve much sympathy/consideration, I'm talking about (serious) others: Crystal's gangster older brother, as utterly unsympathetic a character as he'd become still loved his little brother (and his little brother still loved/looked-up to him). I've seen that with my own eyes. I've also seen relatives sincerely weeping over the corpses of their dead (and up-until death) gang-banging children.
As such the story offers much to all to think about and both the film and the stage play would probably be worth a look by youth ministers in specifically Latino (the film's in Spanish with English subtitles) gang-troubled neighborhoods both in the U.S. and beyond. But returning to my original premise, the talent present in this film is really quite remarkable and deserves a look by those looking for Hispanic faces and voices across the film industry.
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