Celluloid for the couch potato
Senate Bill 1070 edition
For Arizonans whose will to spend the weekend out and about has been taxed by the recent immigration kerfuffle, but who nevertheless have border issues on the mind, the following films are excellent choices for weekend viewing, whether one needs a good laugh, a good cry or some food for thought.
The Border (1982)
Directed by Tony Richardson ("The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," "Tom Jones"), "The Border" stars Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel as two U.S. Border Patrol agents. Nicholson's Charlie is caught between doing the right thing and falling into the morass of corruption and crime. Eventually, Charlie joins partner and neighbor Cat (Keitel) in running illegals for money. Filmed in El Paso and Guatemala, "The Border" was ahead of its time in terms of bringing attention to immigration issues, and has more in common with the best of director Sam Peckinpah than with Richardson's other films. Ry Cooder's soundtrack is an added bonus, and features collaborators John Hiatt, Jim Dickinson and Freddie Fender. Rated R.
Born in East L.A. (1987)
Written and directed by comedian Cheech Marin, who also stars, "Born in East L.A." is a hilarious sendup of immigration law in 1980s California. Marin stars as Rudy, an American-born man of Mexican descent who is mistakenly deported during an immigration sweep at a factory. Deported and without papers, Rudy's odyssey home to America, fueled by his own ingenuity, makes for many, many moments of comedy gold out of the tragic predicament so many Mexican-Americans have encountered. Rated R.
Bread and Roses (2000)
When British director and pioneer of the social realist movement in film, Ken Loach ("Riff-Raff", "My Name Is Joe"), left the U.K. as primary subject matter, many were skeptical. His touching and honest portrayal of illegal immigrant Maya's journey to Los Angeles and her tribulations as an undocumented janitorial worker is an understated triumph. Labor organizer Sam Shapiro (Adrien Brody) attempts to organize the workers in Maya's abusive work environment in a "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Like many of Loach's films, while the content may be politicized, the center of the film is its complex characters. Loach said of the project of film as activism, "A movie isn't a political movement, a party or even an article. It's just a film. At best it can add its voice to public outrage." Despite a lack of commercial success during its theatrical run ten years ago, this film's voice is still current, and its outrage may find its best audience now. Rated R.
Lone Star (1996)
American indie director John Sayles' most fully realized film, "Lone Star" tells the tale of a Texas border town and its many secrets. At the heart of the film is a mystery concerning the unearthing of a skeleton, presumed to be that of corrupt sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson). While current sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) attempts to unravel the past, restauranteur Pilar (Elizabeth Pena) comes to terms with the predicament of people fleeing from Mexico. Like many of Sayles' films, various subplots that cohere thematically with issues of ethnicity, family and identity constellate around the murder mystery. Sayles' writing here is superb, and the lead and supporting cast turn in powerful performances. Highly recommended. Rated R.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
Directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, who won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his turn as ranch foreman Pete Perkins, the film follows Pete's journey to rebury murdered Mexican cowboy Estrada after his body is discovered in a shallow grave and then buried in Texas. Pete returns Estrada's body to Mexico, encountering many harsh realities about life for Mexicans along the border. Supporting turns by Melissa Leo ("Homicide: Life On the Street") and singer Dwight Yoakam ("Sling Blade") raise the stakes of Jones' own tour de force performance. Rated R.