I can’t believe how deeply affected I was by the small Indie “A Better Life,” which I only recently watched on DVD. For an under-reviewed, under-appreciated mainly Mexican film that is half in Spanish, about the life and struggles of an illegal immigrant gardener, it really made all its’ points with a powerful punch-to-the-gut impact. I’m still reeeeling!
But I loved it, and appreciated the power, the intelligence and the artistry of filmmaker Chris Weitz and the Mexican star Demian Bichir, who’s now going to be just as big a star in Hollywood as he is in Mexico.
And it contains one great, probably classic film scene where its’ SAG nominee for Best Actor, Demian Bichir, as Carlos Galindo, the gardener, has to climb up to the top of a Hollywood palm tree to cut cocoanuts. And it’s a really heart-in-your-mouth scene that makes you gasp out loud, as he really, for real ,climbs that tall,dangerous palm tree in a rich white woman’s garden, and gazes out over the magnificent Los Angeles cityscape. He enjoys perhaps his happiest moment in the movie, looking for a brief second, at the stunning view.
Only to look down and see his truck, the truck that he’s sunk his whole family’s money and his life, into being stolen along with all his tools! By a compadre, another illegal Mexican, who he was trying to help out with an afternoon’s job. And there he is stuck up the F***ing palm tree!
And we saw how slow and difficult it was for him to climb up, and then we see him struggling to get down, fast, without breaking his neck, and of course, he can’t. He has to go down as slowly as he went up that dangerous tree! Talk about in Academy-speak “Degree of Difficulty”!
And then he chases the stolen truck on foot! His desperate chase makes George Clooney’s similar race in “The Descendants” look ridiculous. But then that’s what it’s supposed to be.
But the Academy are going to watch that “A Better Life” screener, which they all had in their possession since LABOR DAY! It was the first to be sent out this year, and I’m oh so glad to give Kudos Summit Entertainment for taking a page from Sony Pictures Classics- typical Oscar campaign gambit by doing so.
And Bichir himself? Why, he was Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour “Che.” And he’s absolutely disarming in interview situations. He and director Chris (“New Moon”) Weitz have even been to Washington, D.C. with it.
And in this election year, when the phrase “illegals” is being thrown around all over the place, THIS is the film that addresses this topic in a way that’s never really been shown before. From the point of view of a Mexican illegal himself.
In an early scene of the film, Bichir’s son (Jose Julian), kids his father about not having a driver’s license. It’s done as sort of a throw-away moment, but then you realize that the Carlos Galindos of the world CAN’T get Drivers Licenses because they are “illegals,” this year’s new “N” word.
But I think Damien Bichir is going to be experiencing a big “O” word in his near future. O like in Oscar.