A Better Life, PG-13, a drama released in limited theaters on June 24, 2011, is insightful, authentic, engaging, and much more than a search for a truck. My heart broke and my stomach grabbed in enough scenes to move me to a fresh appreciation of the value of life and the suffocation of certain inhumane limits.
Carlos Galindo, a father, from East L.A. works hard to provide for his son, Luis, in a story that unfolds to engage the viewer in the emotional, complicated layers of life lived as an undocumented immigrant in current times. The story communicates the heart’s cry for dignity torn apart by the hardship of reality, peppered with the fear and stress of making a living and keeping familia safe. No cliché resolutions and without fairytale endings, this is a powerful, evocative glimpse into the controversy and compelling nature of the lives of the strangers among us. Love and hope are ever present in the pain.
The film is getting some great reviews from critics, and deserves attention. Director Chris Weitz, who also directed New Moon (Twilight series) and About a Boy, brings out some subtle and powerful performances. Actor Demián Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in Che: Part 2, gives a brilliant performance in the role of the father, Carlos Galindo. His 14-year old son, Luis, is played well by actor José Julián. Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, a business run by former gang members, contributed by working with the crew to make the film as authentic as possible. The script includes language and differentiated slang true to various Los Angeles neighborhoods. The film is set in Hispanic neighborhoods with predominantly Hispanic cast members, unusual to many Hollywood productions.
I recommend this movie for several reasons: 1) The film as art is well done; 2) If you can spend the money, support a film that shares truth on the issue of immigration from a perspective of empathy and understanding, moving past pity and prohibitive posturing; 3) Continue to learn and increase awareness about the everyday lives of real people in our communities; 4) If you reside near Los Angeles, as I do, you may also enjoy the broader exposure to local culture and appreciate the familiarity of local geography in scenes throughout the movie; 5) Find the common ground aches and angst as parents working to secure a life for family.
I sensed and emotionally engaged in the anger, desperation, strength of character, the search for respect, the fight for integrity, and the tension between parent and child to provide and protect in a difficult situation. One scene gave me chills as it paralleled for me images from other films portraying people arriving at Nazi concentration camps, and the scene was not exaggerated in A Better Life. Yet, it was an accurate, objective portrayal of the experience of an undocumented community member. There is much more to say, but I do not want to give away too much of the plot development.
A Better Life is a tribute to a group of marginalized people in our culture. If you are not marginalized, this film may break your heart in new ways and promote more compassionate insight, or it could leave you confused, at a point of disequilibrium, trying to filter what you believed hours ago with new awareness of everyday reality for some within the current limits of broken justice.
Good people, like the father in this film, with the will to contribute and provide, deserve a more dignified path to a better life. This film does not make conclusions or recommendations. It just shines a light on the struggle. The subtle communication in images and facial expressions, communicate as much as the dialog. The story will be familiar to those of you most involved with this issue, either personally or professionally. The film may help to open the minds of others who need to investigate the value of compassionate comprehensive immigration reform.
On my journey, stories in films and books have moved me into a place of inquiry and perspective, and helped me overcome my own personal prejudice and stereotypes. Along with the movie Under the Same Moon, and the book, Enrique’s Journey, this film is now part of my understanding, as I work with others to provide a gentle invitation for sincere consideration of the complexity of immigration.
Cindi is a writer, educator, and student advocate in Southern California. She is passionate about the DREAM Act, issues of human trafficking, and economic disparity. She leads Women Against Global Hunger and blogs at Seeds and Sensibility