A Better Life — filmmakers should look at this to make their own films better.


Stinging representation of the life of Carlos, an illegal immigrant from Mexico (that’s right, “illegal”…because he’s in the U.S….illegally) and his 15-year old son, Luis. He goes through life each day working in the yards of the well-to-do to provide for Luis, who has no appreciation for what his father does, and whose influences are MTV’s “Cribs” and the Mexican gangs around him.
When the father has a chance to try and make their lives better by buying the truck and client list from his employer, his plans are foiled when the truck is stolen by a worker Carlos, himself, hired. In more than a nod to The Bicycle Thief, Carlos and Luis go out to find the source of their potential prosperity.
A Better Life is directed by Chris Weitz, whose directing range is astonishing, going from the hopelessly shallow Twlight: New Moon through the broad and horrible The Golden Compass to the slapstick crudeness of American Pie (directed with his brother), the unfunny Down to Earth — and a spike of understated genius with About A Boy. I don’t think that with that repertoire he could have pulled off the incredibly moving, if predictable. A Better Life. And I say predictable, in that, the story itself isn’t particularly new. Its the performances that hold this piece together, especially from Carlos’ Demian Bichir.
Bichir brings to Carlos a quiet desperation of a man in a very desperate situation, but, as a role model to his son, he always chooses to do what is right. Well, almost always…and when he doesn’t make the right choice, it ends in very real, very dire consequences. His representation of someone who has to live in the shadows gives one a very cruicial insight in the human side of illegal immigration. And Jose Julian as Luis, provides a very clear distinction not only between the ubiquitous rift between the generations, but the added complexity of a teen age boy who, growing up in America, has no concept of the life his father had in Mexico, or, indeed, the life his father has now. His arc is clear, and despite all influences leading him to join a gang, his father’s soft spoken hand brings him back to plumb.
The film draws us in emotionally because of an empathy for our heroes, but it drives it up with the very real dangers of this world we are being brought into. In one part of the journey, a fellow worker helps them look for the truck, and brings them into a neighborhood run by the El Salvadorian gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). There is no exposition on this outside of Luis knowledge and hesitation to go — and graffiti on the wall saying “Too many Mexicans, not enough bullets”. The danger is imminent, and the danger is real. Nothing dire happens, but the tension is profound. Its a message that permeates the film, and is represented metaphorically in Carlos’ job cutting palm fronds off of a tree without any more safety than spiked shoes and a belt. You may not die today. You may not die at all. But, like working and living as an undocumented worker, the danger is there, but its something you must do to live.
If you have a choice of watching a film to get a glimpse of life as a Mexican living in Los Angeles – watch A Better Life and not From Prada to Nada.

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