Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon is a sweet and surprisingly powerful film that disguises a complex study of Mexican immigration within a simple story of a mother’s love for her son.
Rosario (Kate Del Castillo) is a young mother without a husband. She crossed the boarder four years earlier and lives in Los Angeles in search of a better life. Rosario left behind her now nine year old son Carlos, also know as Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), who is being cared for by his sick grandmother. There is a weekly phone call from Rosario to Carlos Sundays at 10 am. This is their opportunity to converse about the mundane as well as more serious issues in their lives. Carlos has never met his father and never sees his mother. He is bright and sensitive and begins to get the feeling that his mother may not return or send for him. Their conversations are heart-wrenching for Rosario, as her son keeps asking her when they will see each other again. He makes her describe in great detail the location of the phone booth and what surrounds it. This visual device proves crucial to the story.
Carlos works for a seasoned businesswoman, Dona Carmen (Carmen Salinas) who arranges border crossings. This is how he meets a young brother (Jesse Garcia) and sister (America Ferrera) who are legal U.S. citizens, and want to earn money for eduction by smuggling babies to the U.S. Their offer is rejected by Ms. Carmen on the grounds of their inexperience. Carlos saves his money from the job as well as money his mother sends each month
The film keeps a brisk pace cross-cutting between Rosario in LA and Carlos in Mexico. But most of the plot turns are predictable. There are no surprises on how the characters act or change as the story advances. All pretty stock. As expected, the grandmother dies and Carlos decides to cross the border to find his mother in LA. He connects with the brother and sister and hires them to smuggle him into the U.S. His goal is to get there before the usual Sunday call, so she won’t worry that he doesn’t answer the phone.
Along the way he crosses paths with the usual suspects. A junkie tries to sell him for a fix, but many characters turn out to be good Samaritans for Carlos as well as Rosario. Eventually Carlos and Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), a gruff illegal, are thrown together. They develop a love-hate relationship that carries through the rest of the picture. During a short stay in Tucson, Enrique helps Carlos meet his father. The scene with his father, Oscar, is ineffective and seems to have been only inserted to get Enrique and Carlos onto a bus to LA. It’s probably the only wrong turn in the film.
Pics strength can be found in the performances. The players that have not yet made it have edges they keep razor sharp. The characters that are established in the U.S. are calm and steady. It’s this contrast that gives the film energy and hope. Kate Del Castillo is excellent in her portrayal of the mother who is determined to succeed, but is overcome by the emotional longing for her son. So much so she almost makes a huge error. Adrian Alonso is bright and tough, a natural on screen, and the catalyst for everyone around him. Supporting cast performances on both sides of the border are solid.
There is effective use of native music as well as talk radio that provides the undercurrent of the realities of Mexicans trying to understand where they are positioned in the American caste system. It’s a difficult and trying topic. Ms. Riggen’s camera is fluid and she passes it across a collection of visual clues that ties everything together in the end. Effective editing can also be credited for breathing life into a solid and inspirational script by Ligiah Villalobos.
Director Patricia Riggen and Adrian Alonso on the set
Under the Same Moon (subtitled) is a wonderful break from the Hollywood fare we are bombarded with week after week. It tackles a real issue and is successful in humanizing the suffering connected with it. Recommended. Visit the official web site here.
Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures