June 21, 2008

DVD Review: Under the Same Moon (La Misma luna)

I recently reviewed a movie that I loved. I did not discover this until I saw the film, which I had not even heard of until recently. The movie is called Watching the Detectives. It is a movie that builds up a lot of goodwill through the excellent chemistry between its two leads. This pair carries the film despite its obvious flaws, and in the end I just absolutely loved it. Good actors and stories can do this, make you ignore the flaws that would sink other films that don't have that redeeming value. Why do I mention this? Under the Same Moon has a similar distinction. I cannot say that it is a good movie, as it tends to be a little to the melodramatic and manipulative side of the coin, but the performances by the leads and the emotional investment that the screenplay fosters is too much to ignore. This movie won me over.

Under the Same Moon is the emotionally moving, unrepentantly weepy drama about the love between a mother and son and the toll that extended time apart can cause. The further into the movie I got, the more difficult I found it to divorce myself from what was developing. It is not that I made an effort to, I didn't, I did not see any reason not to get drawn into the developing drama. There is a very agreeable slow burn to the development; it takes its time letting you get to know the characters and what they are doing in as naturalistic manner as possible for a movie that plays dangerously along the realistic/unrealistic border.

At the center of the drama are Rosario and Carlitos. Rosario is a single mother in Mexico who wishes to give her young son a chance for a better life. To that end, she crosses the border illegally and works as a maid, raising money to send back to her son as well as to hire a lawyer while she studies to become a US citizen. The story picks up four years following her crossing. Carlitos is being cared for by his sick grandmother and feels abandoned by his mother, not to mention an absentee father. Both mother and son are struggling with their current status always hoping for more.

There is a moment early on where the two are on the phone and they clearly state what this movie is about. Rosario asks Carlitos what he wants for his birthday and Carlitos responds simply: "You." This simple exchange lays everything out on the table and tells you that this movie is about mother and son desperately needing to be reunited.

Of course, there is the issue of immigration. Illegal immigration is a point that is hard to ignore watching this movie. The creative team also makes no bones about where they fall with regards to the issue. It is not an issue I wish to get into, but it is impossible to discuss this film without mentioning it. I just feel that the familial bond and the toll that distance can take overrides any legal/social discussion the immigration issue can bring up.

The movie covers a one week period that is triggered when Carlitos' grandmother dies in her sleep. With no one to take care of him, and feeling a strong desire to find his mother, he strikes out on his own with the intention of crossing the border and heading to Los Angeles to find her before her scheduled Sunday morning call. We follow the ingenious nine-year-old as he does everything he can to get to LA. From his sneaking across the border to hooking up with migrant workers, from pairing up with a worker following an INS raid to finding his real father, he goes on quite an adventure. Meanwhile, Rosario's life is reaching a crossroads as it is not working out the way she planned and is considering a return to Mexico.

Watching these two do what they need to do is utterly engrossing. In particular Adrian Alonso (The Legend of Zorro) as Carlitos is just fantastic. He is a smart youngster who is dead set on what he wants to do and where he wants to go, leaving a wake of positivity in his wake. The performance is magnetic; you cannot help but root for him. Meanwhile, Kate del Castillo does a wonderful job as Rosario. There is so much pain and emotional weight in her face that whenever she smiles, she just lights up the screen. Not to be forgotten is Eugenio Derbez as Enrique, a migrant worker who is deeply changed by time spent with young Carlitos.

Patricia Riggen directed the film to great effect, working from a screenplay from Ligiah Villalobos. While the film stretches the believability factor, it still works as a strongly emotional story. The emotions are real and I do not doubt that similar stories have actually happened, I believe this film is constructed primarily to act directly on the emotions, never attempting to be realistic. That is fine, it works on this level, and for that I applaud the filmmakers.

Audio/Video. The disk that I viewed was a pre-release version and may not be truly indicative of the finished product that you will find on store shelves. That said, if this is what the production version looks like, I have no completes. Both audio and video are solid with no real defects or anything to complain about.

Extras. The DVD has a couple of featurettes included.
  • The Making of La Misma luna. This behind the scenes look runs for 26-minutes and features interviews with cast and crew about the film, what it is about and what went into its making.
  • La Misma luna: Mural Documentary. This 11-minute featurette takes a look at the artists involved in creating the mural in the film and creating a mural tribute to the film. It features interviews with the various artists whom the studio contacted to design the mural.

Bottomline. The movie is not perfect, some threads could have used another scene or two. Still, the lead performances are excellent, the story pulls at the heartstrings, and the final moment is a memorable one that you are not likely to forget.



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