Saturday, February 25, 2012

“A Better Life” Tackles Two American Taboos

      Demián Bichir is nominated for the Oscar for A Better Life, which played in Cincinnati for a week last summer.  Mark Harris also wrote about it recently in Entertainment Weekly.  I hope these two occurrences get it some greater attention than it has so far received.  No one has written so far that it has the
same basic plot as Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief, except with the added contemporary issue of the father being an illegal alien from Mexico.

Demián Bichir
      Poverty and immigration are the taboos that Americans don’t want to really deal with and though George W. Bush pushed for immigration reform, it didn’t go anywhere.  Congress talks about it, mainly through partisan media outlets, bur it doesn’t go to a vote and partly, I think, because Americans would rather have low-level occupations performed by people who could be deported because they’ll work for low pay and never complain because they have to remain invisible.  Yet the characters in this movie always display the most decent of family values, and that includes the gang members and the thief.  Putting their families first drives everything they do.  Bichir’s character is hard working, disciplined, and quietly desperate, though he’ll do anything for his son.  He gives a taciturn, extremely physical performance as a decent man who, surprisingly, has to overcome many fears including the acknowledgement that his dreams are worthwhile and modest.  José Julián (a real find as his son), Americanized to a point where he reflects ambivalent adolescent feelings about his parent, gets what his father is willing to sacrifice and joins him in his search for what can lead to ‘a better life.’  

      The movie asks not just what a better life is or whether it’s possible for these characters, but also what life many urban people would have – this is L.A. – without people like these characters willing to work so hard.

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