The heartbreak of illegal immigration is vividly displayed in this poignant story of nine year old Carlos (Adrian Alonso) a boy living in Mexico with his grandmother while his mother (Kate del Castillo) works as an illegal domestic in Los Angeles trying to make enough money to send home so the son she has been separated from can live a good life--even if it means being without her. When the grandmother suddenly dies Carlos decides to cross the border and look for mom. As his journey continues he encounters a woman (America Ferrera) and her brother (Jesse Garcia) who make tuition money taking babies into the U.S. In this instance she decides to help smuggle Carlos across by hiding him in her van. Once he lands in Tuscon he meets a sympathetic middle- aged migrant worker named Enrique (Eugenio Derbez) who accompanies him to East L.A. Once there they try to locate his mother--their only clue being a vague description of the area around a pay phone she used in her weekly calls home to Carlos. The film which is shot mostly in Spanish with some English language scenes as well offers great big screen opportunities to some of Mexico’s biggest television stars including telenovela favorite Kate del Castillo. She delivers a moving performance as a mother living separated by borders with her only son but living “under the same moon.” The film really belongs however to young Alonso--a natural in front of the cameras who impressed American audiences as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas’ son in The Legend of Zorro but breaks out here as the determined Carlos. Both create a touching mother-son relationship even though they are never in any scenes together. Also playing against type is superstar Derbez unquestionably one of Latin America’s most popular actors who develops a winning chemistry with Alonso making every moment of their screen time count. Ugly Betty’s Ferrera also turns up for some effective moments including a heart-stopping sequence in which she is questioned by border guards while the van carrying the hidden Carlos is searched. Although she has made some award winning shorts Under the Same Moon represents the first feature length film for Mexican-born Patricia Riggen. She succeeds on all levels emphasizing the characters in the story over the potentially political hot button topic of immigration which her film so eloquently humanizes. Working with screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos the two women give urgency to the tragic separation of mother and son caught between two disparate cultures. Given the time restraints and low budget Riggen’s command of the camera is impressive particularly in the inventive and almost spiritual ways she manages to bring mother and son together on screen even though they never share a shot. Use of music is also hugely effective with Carlos Silotto’s melodic score recalling a similar film about a young dreamer Cinema Paradiso. Ultimately though Under the Same Moon lives or dies with the actors and Riggen’ spot-on casting decisions--particularly in the case of Alonso--really lift it to new levels. Most of the actors have extensive TV followings and Riggen knew by casting them she would risk the wrath of Mexican film critics who uniformly look down on television. Doesn’t matter. Under the Same Moon has universal appeal and should find approving audiences around the world.
More than 10 000 people are smuggled into the United States for sexual exploitation per the nonprofit organization Free the Slaves. Inspired by a New York Times Magazine article Trade focuses on the attempts of traffickers to smuggle a group of women and children across the U.S.-Mexican border. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner wastes no time introducing us to the two victims he intends to follow from their kidnapping in Mexico to their auctioning off in the United States. Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) is snatched from the street as she rides the bicycle she just received from her brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) for her 13th birthday. Single mother Veronica (Alicja Bachleda) arrives in Mexico City from Poland believing she’s there to meet with the people she’s paid to arrange her with safe and legal passage to the United States. Only she’s been duped by the traffickers. Adriana Veronica and a handful of other abductees then begin their terrifying journey to the United States under the watchful eye of trafficker Manuelo (Marco Perez). On their trail is Jorge who feels responsible for Adriana’s kidnapping. He risks life and limb to follow the abductees across the border. Once on U.S. soil Jorge crosses paths with Ray (Kevin Kline) a Texas cop who’s trying to break up the trafficking ring for personal reasons. Ray reluctantly pairs up with Jorge to track down Adriana before she and Veronica are sold off to the highest bidder via the Internet. More gentleman than action hero Kevin Kline’s not the obvious choice to portray a police officer hailing from the Lone Star State. Ray’s the kind of law-enforcement bloodhound Tommy Lee Jones can play in his sleep. Heck Kline only halfheartedly attempts a Texas drawl and even then he drops it minutes after his late entrance. This could be overlooked if Kline lent Ray some intensity. For someone on a crusade Kline strolls through Trade without a care in the world. As Trade reaches its inevitable showdown between the traffickers and their pursuers Ray’s faced with a life-or-death choice that would compromise all he stands for. Kline though looks about as conflicted as someone trying to decide what he wants for lunch. Luckily Kline’s presence doesn’t negate the fine work done by Ramos Gaitan and Bachleda. Ramos perfectly captures the guilt of a troubled young man—one embarking on a life of crime—whose ill-gotten gains has cost him dearly. If Ramos offers a study in redemption Bachleda goes to great pains to show the ease with which someone with so much grit and determination can bend and break under the most extreme of circumstances. Gaitan doesn’t endure as much abuse but she’s still one tough cookie. Perez refuses to allow Manuelo to be a mere profit-minded monster—he provides Manuelo with a conscience or what passes for one in his business. Trade is a tale of two countries. While in Mexico director Marco Kreuzpaintner examines the sex-slave trade in an incisive and uncompromising manner. He sheds light on how these trafficking rings acquire their slaves and smuggle them across the border. He puts us on edge the moment Adriana and Veronica fall in their captors’ hands. We’re never sure as to what will happen to them. We know they need to be kept alive. But in what condition? Many of the abductees are drugged beaten and raped. The violence isn’t exploitative—Kreuzpaintner just needs to show the cruelty inflicted upon these victims of the modern-day slave trade. And it only makes us fear more for Adrian and Veronica’s safety. Once Trade reaches the United States Kreuzpaintner and screenwriter Jose Rivera start pulling their punches. Yes there are some moments that make you sick to your stomach. But the moment Kline arrives on the scene Trade gets weak at the knees. There are too many coincidences for Trade’s own good. The sudden death of one character is forced and absurd. And Kreuzpaintner doesn’t know how to extricate Kline from the untenable situation he’s placed in during Trade’s climax. This all leads up to a pat ending one that even the Lifetime TV crowd would find unbelievably spineless.
It’s Passover in Barcelona and newly engaged lovers Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) a Palestinian professor and Leni (Mariana Aguilera) a Jewish actress apprehensively arrive at her parents’ home after a grueling time in airport customs. Within minutes of stepping into the chaotic apartment of her eccentric Jewish family--of course they believe Rafi to be Israeli--we are instantly thrown into Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Romeo and Juliet Focker. The characters move and scramble about as we meet Leni’s redheaded Yamaka-wearing younger brother David (Fernando Ramallo) busy imposing his strong religious beliefs on his liberal family--taping light switches lighting candles and hiding cell phones in an attempt to recognize The Sabbath. Then there's Leni's endearing yet provocative older sister Tania (Maria Botto) who has a penchant for sleeping with strangers and belly dancing. Rafi can barely catch his breath when mom Gloria (Norma Aleandro) finds out he’s not Jewish. The tail spin has begun and through a series of witty dialogue rich in political overtones as well as Woody Allen-esque slapstick we stand in disbelief as one of the worlds most dysfunctional families attempt to find harmony amidst utter chaos. As the wiry curly-haired University level Arabic literature teacher Toledo succeeds in turning Rafi into a one-man-show á la Italian funnyman Roberto Benigni and is a pleasure to watch as he’s dumped into one unfortunate mishap after another. And although his fiancée in the film is well played by Aguilera it is Botto’s sexiness and charm--not to mention absolutely delightful dance scene with Rafi--that adds much needed flare to the ensemble cast. And as the blind slightly deaf and questionably senile war veteran Grandpa Dudu Max Berliner brilliantly transforms himself into a delightful male version of Ruth Gordon wandering about the home aimlessly delivering laugh after laugh. Oscar-nominated Aleandro (Gaby) rules her family with boundless neuroses and it is as if she walks through walls to some how always be in the right place at the wrong time to interject her opinions into just about every scene. The impudent niece wannabe fundamentalist brother as well as a colorful group of characters we meet along the way one-liners and well-timed comedic scenes could quite possibly turn this little dish into a major course. Husband and wife filmmaking team Teresa De Pelegri and Dominic Harari successfully accomplish what they set out to--creating a smart witty and hilarious film about two polar opposite backgrounds and bringing it together in a taut politically viable and eloquent way. At no point are we asked to choose a side in the film only to sit back relax and listen as the characters play out a delicate situation in an organic comedy-first way. Only Human eventually strips away any impressions we may have had by blurring the lines so much we can’t help but find similarities in their backgrounds. In 85 minutes we are given just enough to fulfill our appetites for these characters--and even if it feels at times like the story is trying a bit too hard exhausting certain points a simple act of vaudevillian comedy refreshes everything for us. This film is a fun ride filled with everything from sexiness physical comedy and toilet humor moments what would do a Farrelly brother proud.