Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"La Mission"

"La Mission" is a project of love about the barrio neighborhood the Bratt brothers grew up in. Writer/Director Peter Bratt takes time and care to set up a strong sense of cultural pride with Aztec dancers, Catholic rituals, "slow and low" cruising in shiny low riders through the family oriented Mission District of San Francisco.

Che Rivera, (Benjamin Bratt) an ex-con and recovering alcoholic, has worked hard to earn the respect of his community by going straight and being a good father to his college bound son (Jeremy Ray Valdez.) Benjamin Bratt portrays Che as the embodiment of Mexican machismo. The director presents him as a sympathetic character who was brought up to use his fists to survive on the hard streets. Che finds strength for his quest for redemption in his culture and religion. But when he discovers that his beloved son is gay, that homophobic culture drives his negative response. Everything he knows is thrown out of whack.

Enhancing the theme is a multi-racial relationship with Che's black, culturally diverse, social-worker neighbor Lena (Erika Alexander.) Lena sees through Che's violent, macho exterior. Experience has taught her that this kind of man is incapable of changing, but she can't help but be moved by the wounded boy inside. When it becomes clear that he is a man who "uses violence and intimidation" to get what he wants, she ends their relationship - forcing him to take a good look at himself.

Near the end of the film, there is an odd visual metaphor which I believe is meant to show the contrast between past and present Chicano culture: colorful Aztec dancers perform at the shine of a murdered gang member with a sign, "No more violence." I found it odd because the Aztec's practiced human sacrifice, right? Whether intentional or not, the Aztec dancers are a good metaphor for the theme: We need to keep what is healthy from our culture or religion and let go of what is destructive.

"La Mission," isn't perfect. A few scenes were just left hanging - especially in the romantic subplot. I didn't feel the chemistry between Che and Lena. But Benjamin Bratt delivers one of his strongest performances. The brothers have given us an authentic, loving depiction of the culture in the Mission barrio with an important theme for our times.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Mid-August Lunch"

The cliche of the Italian bachelor living at home with a doting mother who waits on him and prepares his favorite meals is turned on it's head in the delicious Italian treat, "Mid-August Lunch." In this film, unemployed fifty-ish bachelor Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) shows respect for his ninety-something mother by taking good care of her and lovingly preparing their meals.

The small family has been living off of credit for some time and is months behind on their maintenance and electric bills for their ancient apartment. The landlord is willing to forgive the dept if they take in his mother so he can get away for the Mid-August holiday. The landlord drops off his mother AND his aunt. And soon the doctor's mother joins the mix. So Gianni must survive the weekend playing good host to four strong-willed shut-ins. What impressed me most was how he never loses his manners but treats these woman with the respect earned by those who have reached a certain age.

This is a film about the joys of entertaining. It illustrates the isolation that comes with aging and our continued need to socialize. There is an Italian saying, "A tavola no s'invecchia," that articulates the theme perfectly, "The passage of time is suspended with experiencing the pleasure of good food, good wine and company."

"Mid-August Lunch" dishes up "slice of life" humor with simple, authentic Italian flavors like those in the perch with potatoes, oregano and rosemary lovingly served at the holiday feast.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal