‘La Misma Luna’ splits critics

Fox Searchlight - Under the Same Moon - Official Site_1205966977021La Misma Luna, or Under the Same Moon, made its Mexico City debut last week to a full house. The movie, which is the first Latino-centric feature from Fox Searchlight, tells the story of the separation of mother and son against the backdrop of thorny issue of immigration between Mexico and the United States.

The film has divided critics – which can only be a good sign. Your humble correspondent found it an enjoyable film which, although pulls at the heartstrings a little too gratuitously in places, portrays well the strong relationship between mother and son and also brings to a mainstream flick the important and political issue of immigration between Latin America and the United States.

Although lacking in complexity, the narrative of the movie is really strong, and in defense of the filmmakers – who you can watch in a short interview below – to have made the movie any more complex could well have detracted from its strong and simple message- the importance of love, family and sacrifice.

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Rosario (Kate de Castillo) is working in Los Angeles as an ‘illegal’ domestic helper, and sending money back to her son Carlitos, who is being looked after by her mother in Mexico. When Carlitos’s abuela dies, he decides to make his way to the US illegally, in search of his mother, who he’s not seen for four years.

As Reed Johnson on the Los Angeles Times points out, ‘several of the film’s most memorable characters are nameless illegal immigrants shown struggling to reach el norte or, once there, struggling to make ends meet financially and not be sent back to Mexico.’

But he makes a point that director Patricia Riggen was keen to make during an interview in Los Angeles – that the film isn’t really about immigration but rather about the love that drives people north in order to send back money for their families to survive.

Now, that’s a cheesy but true assertion, and the film does have its saccharine moments, grabbing all but the most hardened of viewers by the throat right from the start in a scene in which Rosario has her weekly, tearful conversation with Carlos from a public phone in LA to one in Mexico.

New York Times reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis dismissed the film for its sentimentality, calling it a saccharin product whose embrace by audiences at last year’s Sundance festival was ‘dispiriting’.

Catsoulis derides Riggen and writer Ligiah Villalobos for what she describes as their having put all their eggs in the cute-kid basket. But that criticism is rather cynical, especially since 13-year-old Adrián Alonso gives such a strong performance.

Washington Times reviewer Ann Hornaday commends the film for the very same reasons Catsoulis derides it: ‘Thanks to the uncommonly shrewd judgment of screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos and director Patricia Riggen, both newcomers, “Under the Same Moon” never feels like rank exploitation, even as it steadily aims for the emotional jugular.’

Fellow Los Angeles Times staffer Kenneth Turan is less complimentary than his colleague Johnson, calling the film a ‘crowd-pleaser’ which is ‘contrived’ and lacking in strong peripheral elements. Although commending the filmmakers on their casting choices, he quite rightly points out that ‘the film’s few but pivotal English-speaking characters.……come across as evil or feeble or both. Not only do the Anglos tend toward caricature, none of them have the slightest idea of how to have fun.’

As always when it comes to movies, I suggest you don’t listen to any of us and go see the movie for yourselves.

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