More than just a documentary dispatch from the illegal immigration frontlines, Mark Becker's Romantico evolves from a verite view of undocumented alien subculture to a deeply personal, "beautifully realized" (NY Post), subtly-hued, and bittersweet dramatic story of family, fatherhood, identity and survival. By day, Mariachi Carmelo Muniz washes cars, but at night, he and his friend Arturo perform norteno and ranchero music for gringo tips in the taquerias and bars of San Francisco's Mission District. Carmelo's meager itinerant living belies the deep roots and binding ties he has to his native Mexico. His wife, two young daughters, and gravely ill mother rely on the money Carmelo sends to them in the little town of Salvatierra. When Carmelo returns to the life and loved ones he left behind a thousand miles south of the border, he resumes the wearying struggle against medieval poverty that he sought to escape in "el Norte." As Carmelo doggedly copes with his mother's mortality, his daughters' needs, and his own dreams, Romantico becomes an unforgettable and "immensely Moving" (NY Daily News) portrait of love, pride, and grace connecting one life with two countries.
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Is he a menace to American society? Not that we see any evidence of. He seems driven entirely by the need to support his young family back home with the tips he and a fellow musician collect from customers in restaurants. Nights are spent in a shared room, where he sleeps on the floor in a corner. Do we see him deprive actual citizens of their jobs? Sponge off of taxpayers? Break any laws besides his residency status? No. He scrapes by and sends whatever he can home to his wife and two daughters, so they can stay in school and get the education he never had. Meanwhile, apparently untreated, his health is declining.
Separated from a family he loves, he eventually returns to his hometown to scrape whatever living he can from odd jobs there. A relative provides money for a quinceanera for his older daughter, while his younger daughter has fallen silent and refuses to speak to anyone. Inquiring how he might enter the U.S. legally, he learns the truth of the matter, that without education, money, a skilled job, and other resources, including a much younger age, he doesn't have a prayer.
Yes, it's a documentary that may provide a biased portrayal of the man. It seems just as likely to be a fair portrayal of not only this man but a host of others. The DVD includes a thoughtful and articulate interview with American filmmaker, Mark Becker, who provides a follow-up to the film which addresses both practical and ethical issues of making a documentary about a poor man and his family. Slow paced, it gives plenty of time to live vicariously the life of an illegal.
and send some money home, playing music in various restaurants. They also work all day at other
The film follows Carmelo Sanchez, one of the two, as he returns to Mexico to care for his ailing,
aging mother, and finds himself torn between staying and returning to the US.
This is a very effective film at giving those of us who will never know this kind of hard life some
insight into what so many other human beings around us go through. Yet, at least on first viewing,
there was also a little something missing. While it was always interesting, it never touched my
heart as deeply as it did my head, I'm not sure why. Maybe there was just a little feeling of
remove that the film never quite got around. Maybe it's because Sanchez himself is so stoic,
and keeps so much inside.
But still a very good movie, and an important one for all of us lucky enough not to live in want.