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Bread and Roses
Lions Gate
Official Site
Director: Ken Loach
Producer: Rebecca O’Brien
Screenwriter: Paul Laverty
Starring: Pilar Padilla, Adrien Brody, George Lopez and Elpidia Carrillo

Rating: out of 5

For political cinema to succeed, the story needs to overcome some big obstacles: Namely, if the viewer doesn’t agree with the politics of the filmmaker, the characters must rise above the rhetoric to connect on a personal level. Happily, that’s exactly what we get with this moving portrait of Latin American immigrants struggling for a better life.

Pilar Padilla makes a striking film debut as Maya, a young Mexican national who manages to survive a harrowing trip over the border to live with her sister’s family in East L.A. The “promised land” may have a lot to offer, but it’s also full of sleazy opportunists who exploit and dehumanize the powerless. It is Maya’s awareness of her powerlessness, and her journey to overcome it, which drive the story and give it much needed emotional resonance.

Lucky enough to secure a spot on an office cleaning crew, Maya endures torrents of humiliation at the hands of her boss (a sadistic, but very effective George Lopez). A cunning union organizer (Adrien Brody) manages to convince her that there is a way out, but her choice to take that path is an agonizing one. In a world where daily survival is more immediate than political objectives and labor sloganeering, the struggle will pit friends, co-workers, and family members against one another at a time when they can least afford it.

Sure, we’ve seen this type of struggle depicted before, most notably in mainstream star vehicles like NORMA RAE. Yet this is a much more affecting story because it is told from a unique (and arguably authentic) point of view. Like most political filmmakers, Director Loach and Screenwriter Laverty reach a bit by giving the characters a few fiery speeches that read like something out of a union recruitment manual—but so what? By depicting the struggles of undocumented workers in such a personal and respectful way, the film helps to unearth a “dirty little secret” that many audiences may still not be willing or able to acknowledge. Besides, Padilla and others in the cast turn in dynamic performances of such great emotional depth, it would be a shame to dismiss the film for its political overtones. If anything, these performances only demonstrate that no matter which side you’re on, the political is indeed very personal.

—Ed Scruggs

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