A young Mexican woman Maya (Pilar Padilla) is anxious to come to America and live a better life. In a daring opener she illegally crosses the California/Mexican border and with a few glitches she eventually joins her older sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) in Los Angeles. For Rosa a life trying to support her two children and tend to her sick husband has been hard-she is well aware of the harsh realities of Latinos in the U.S. But the optimistic and eager Maya nonetheless wants to work with Rosa at her job as a building janitor. Unfortunately her views quickly sour when the conditions on the job become almost unbearable especially under a tyrannical and lecherous boss. Then she disccovers her true voice. With the help of a passionate union activist Sam (Adrien Brody) Maya fights for her workplace to join the "Justice for Janitors" union. Rosa believes these actions will only end in disaster but Maya is convinced she can win every battle on her own terms. Her fight ultimately leads to unexpected consequences--and sacrifices--in the young woman's life.
Director Ken Loach blends a combination of experienced film actors with raw newcomers to form a truly excellent ensemble cast but spirited Mexican actress Pilar Padilla's debut performance is what draws you into the film. Loach originally did not consider her for the part because she didn't speak English but through improvisations in Mexico where she acted as a sparring partner for other candidates her sheer presence made the camera gravitate towards her. With an intensive crash course in English she became Maya. Also superb is Elpidia Carrillo (Salvador) whose jaded yet fiercely independent Rosa counteracts Maya's youthful innocence. In the pivotal scene where Rosa lets Maya know how much she has truly sacrficed for Maya and her family the audience is just as horrified as Maya--and riveted. Indie favorite Adrien Brody (Liberty Heights) does a nice job as Sam the union activist whose guerilla methods provide some interesting comic relief and his and Padilla's love scenes are at once sweetly sexy and slightly goofy.
Though the beauty of Bread and Roses is that it gives an intimate and social portrait of the real life struggles Latinos face in contemporary Los Angeles British director Loach comes to the story as an outsider much as Maya does when she first gets to Los Angeles. Nonetheless it offers insight into the experiences of a extremely hard-working group of people who once thought of America as the place to make a life for themselves. When they arrive in this land of plenty however many find they have to get what jobs they can for very little money--and with little support from the establishment. The rights of the working man is not an unfamiliar theme in films but to have it treated from a Latino perspective is refreshing. Loach also uses both Spanish and English subtitles often switching mid-sentence as the actors speak both languages at the same time. The technique is a tad hard to follow at first but it eventually flows immersing the viewer into the reality of this world.