Luis Garcia and Fernando Arau in Televisa Cine's A Day Without a Mexican - 2004
Photo Copyright Televisa Cine
Assuming you tried to go out to the movies this weekend, you will have noticed that our theaters got nothing new this week. This is a typical pitfall of living in a community with a limited number of screens. Theater owners are often contractually bound to keep certain movies for a minimum number of weeks, and with a whole host of holiday choices, it was inevitable that we would miss some of the the big releases. We never saw Ray or Alexander and now it looks like the Julia Roberts/Natalie Portman/Jude Law romantic drama Closer will be AWOL as well. But hey, National Treasure will probably play through the new year considering audiences inexplicable love for it. With our lack of choices in mind, I decided to eschew the inevitable review for Spongebob (How do you adapt a mildly clever twenty-three minute sketch cartoon into a full-length feature? Answer: you dont.) and instead review two new DVD releases, each of which are small, low-budget films that received only limited theatrical release before they were whisked away to video.
A Day Without a Mexican is probably the only movie I've seen that feels as though its entire existence is to answer a thoughtless comment. The insult in question? Imagine you live in Los Angeles and some frustrated preppy, eager to blame the woes of society on some disenfranchised group, opines, "I wish all the Mexicans would just disappear." Mexican director Sergio Arau goes about making that wish come true in this, at times, bitter and disappointed, yet ultimately optimistic film. Filmed in pseudo-documentary style, Mexican tells, through the eyes of several Los Angeles families, the story of a harrowing few days in the life of California after almost everyone with Latin American descent suddenly disappears without a trace. The film then proceeds to illustrate the devastating toll this takes on the social and economic structure of the state, from the lowly migrant farm all the way up to the governor's office. Fruit and vegetables rot in the field and tomatoes become the new black market commodity. Restaurants and hotels have to close because of lack of employees. Factories shut down, border patrol officers are laid off in the hundreds, and chaos reigns. And in the center of it all is Lila Rodriguez, the single remaining hispanic person left in the state. Is it aliens, a plague, or the mysterious L-Factor? Whatever the answer, Lila seems to be the key, and millions suddenly look upon her as a new Madonna, and I'm not referring to the material girl.
Mexican is, though slightly preachy and accusatory, consistently funny and relevant. Its message of tolerance and appreciation of the marvelous differences in cultures could be applied universally, to opposing groups of any creed or ethnicity. That its story seems so specific to Los Angeles might be off-putting, but Arau's acerbic sense of humor and visual style more than make up for his insider references. Mediocre acting and a few over-the-top characterizations hamper the film slightly, but the message comes through loud and clear. "How do you make the invisible visible?" asks the film. "By making it disappear." Grade: B+
Colin Farrell in IFC's Intermission - 2004
Photo Copyright IFC Films
While the previous film is technically not foreign, though it feels like it, Intermission has no problem showing it's Irish colors. In fact, there are times where it is nearly impossible to understand the dialogue, despite the fact that the actors are speaking English. The story of several groups of loosely interconnected Dublinites, Intermission weaves a twisty tale of love, revenge, and self-discovery, all achieved primarily through long conversations in which the camera is way too close to the actors. I enjoyed this film, on the whole, but someone needs to shoot the Director of Photography. Not only does the camera constantly place us in too close proximity to the characters, most of whom are dealing with the pain of loss and isolation, but someone had the bright idea to obsessively zoom the camera in and out, so the scene is constantly in motion. I felt like I was watching a well-written, well-acted comedy-drama as filmed by the high school videography class.
That issue aside, Intermission is an interesting diversion, notable for the inclusion of bad boy actor Colin Farrell as an Irish punk, and for the performance of Colm Meaney as a brooding Irish detective who is completely oblivious of how ridiculous he really is. A sense of frustration permeates the entire production, as though the characters are all trapped at a certain point in their lives without a clue as to where to go next. Intermission, then, is an appropriate title, implying not only the sad lethargy of the moment, but of the grand performance of life yet to come. Grade: B
A Day Without a Mexican and Intermission are both rated R for language and sexual situations.
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