Saturday, March 22, 2008

Learning from "The Same Moon" - La Misma Luna

Carlitos working at a tomato farm. From "Under the Same Moon"

Movies are the best teachers -

On March 20, I was walking near my hotel in Morelia, Michoacan - I passed the new multiplex movie theater that was built in the shell of a 300 year old building - and saw that "Under the Same Moon" was opening that day. The premier wasn't just for the Mexican state of Michoacan, it was for the whole country.

Having been immersed in the immigration debate (and the concerns of DREAMERS) for the past year and a half, I was glad to see a movie about the subject - something serious - not a comedy.

It was disappointing to see that the screen play was weak - The narrative was somewhat juvenile - overly nostalgic - with a good feeling ending. But then, the theater was full of teenagers and young adults. There were only a handful of those my age. Perhaps the producers were targeting the younger age group. Or - they wanted to make the story line very clear to make sure everyone got the message.

La Misma Luna has its redeeming qualities - in fact - what it teaches the viewer over-rides any mistakes in production.

The dramatic scenes in the movie are accurate representations of the real world of immigration, even though the loss, violence, despondence, and abuse were toned down. If La Misma Luna would have presented the real story (aka how bad it really is) you might have had to leave the theater wanting to throw up.

here are a few notes on what the film provides:

1. Scene: Rosario is fired and her employer does not pay her for the last days she worked -
Undocumented workers often don't get paid for their work. A striking example of this was in New Orleans when many immigrants worked in the early rebuilding of the city.

2. Scene: Rosario has immigrated to the U.S. and left Carlitos with her mother.
There are millions of children left behind in Mexico and other countries, while their parents migrate to the U.S. Even more millions are left behind with their mothers while their fathers migrate - Their fathers often forget their family - find a new wife and have children who are American born. Paco, the almost husband of Carlitos' mother is well into his thirties... did he leave a family behind in Mexico?

3. Scene: ICE agents "rough up" Enrique when they arrest him in the park in L.A.
Violence is a significant component of ICE raids. Immigrants being detained are often injured - with fractures and severe bruises. A more silent type of violence occurs even more often - when ICE officers detain people but do not give them water, or food, for hours and hours after the raid. Many of the ICE raids are themselves illegal according to the U.S. Constitution - homes are entered without warrants, U.S. citizens are detained and deported. There are numerous law suits being considered regarding the illegal actions of ICE officers.

5. Scene: worker at tomato farm screams with pain when he gets something in his eyes - Undocumented immigrants have an extremely high rate of injury on the job. They are often placed in situations that are dangerous or hazardous to their health. Whenever you hear about an accident at a job site, it is almost always someone undocumented.

6. Scene: Dona Carmen tells Rosario that her mother has died. Losing close family members and not being able to attend their funerals is absolutely devastating. Many immigrants decide to risk being caught when they are called back home to attend a funeral.

7. Scene: Rosario telling her employer that she has a second job. People really do work 2 and 3 jobs in order to make enough money to support their families and send money back home to the grandmothers.

8. Scene: Los Tigres del Norte singing a song to Carlitos about being able strong. There are lots of songs (and corridos) being recorded that explain the life of an undocumented immigrant. They would be worth listening to. The songs of Los Tigres del Norte are a good example.

9. Scenes: Carlitos shakes hands with people and says "a sus ordenes" (at your service) Mexican immigrant children are really as polite as Carlitos... no kidding.


AFF Review: Under the Same Moon

Posted Oct 22nd 2007 3:09PM by Jette Kernion

Earlier this year, Under the Same Moon (originally titled La Misma Luna) was bought at Sundance by Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company for a surprisingly high amount of money. It's understandable because underneath the film's unsubtle messages about undocumented Mexican workers working to survive in the U.S., it's essentially an old-fashioned family melodrama. I caught the film at Austin Film Festival this year, and it's currently scheduled to hit theaters in March 2008.

Rosario (Kate del Castillo) is a young immigrant from Mexico living and working in Los Angeles to support her nine-year-old son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), who lives with Rosario's mother in Mexico. He hasn't seen his mother in four years and misses her terribly. Meanwhile, Rosario is trying to scrape up enough money for a lawyer to help her bring Carlitos to America legally. When his grandmother dies, Carlitos decides to cross the border himself and travel to Los Angeles to find his mother, because he's scared she'll forget about him. He encounters an unlikely lot of helpers and companions during his attempt, including American college students (America Ferrera and Jesse Garcia) who want to make extra money smuggling children over the border, and Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), a migrant worker who has no desire to deal with a small child on his hands.

The movie is Patricia Riggen's feature directorial debut. It begins a little confusingly -- we don't know the characters yet, so in the opening scene where people are trying to cross the border at night, the focus is unclear. The following sequence seems to be meant to show what Rosario is doing in Los Angeles at the same time that Carlos is in Mexico, but it takes a minute to realize they're not all in the same house. Once the setup is complete, however, the plot progresses steadily and smoothly.

Under the Same Moon has an overt agenda: it wants to make you think about the plight of U.S. undocumented workers, and it's not at all subtle about it. Rosario is treated badly by a woman for whom she cleans house, who tells her, "What are you going to do, call the police? Go right ahead." The message is broadcast literally through local radio in the background, such as Spanish-language deejays making jokes about immigration law, and an amusing song about how Superman didn't enter this country legally, either. The story itself should have been able to carry this message alone, and might have been more effective without all the embellishments; as it is, it feels like overkill.

The storyline and many of the characters are stock -- change the actors in the story to Jackie Cooper and Irene Dunne, and maybe Fredric March, and the plot would work perfectly as a 1930s weepie. We've all seen movies about characters attempting a cross-country journey under difficult circumstances. It is not quite believable that a nine-year-old would be as canny -- and as lucky -- as Carlitos, but then this is not meant to be a gritty realistic film. It's a melodrama with inspirational moments, designed to make you smile through tears.

Fortunately, the performances help pull the movie out of tired melodrama and make it watchable -- especially Adrian Alonso as Carlitos. I liked this movie even though the dialogue occasionally seemed trite, even though I rolled my eyes at caricatures of "bad" people, even though it bordered on the emotionally manipulative ... even though I suspected I knew the ending because of the companies that had bought the distribution rights. The story is not innovative, it travels a very familiar road. But the main characters and a few of the minor ones, like Paco the security guard who loves Rosario and Carmen who runs a business of sneaking people over the border, were all warm and real and avoided the easy stereotypes. Despite its flaws, Under the Same Moon is an entertaining film that knows how to charm an audience.

for link to movie review click the title of this post


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