Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Adrián Alonso as Carlitos
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

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Directed by Patricia Riggen
Written by Ligiah Villalobos
Produced by Riggen & Gerardo Barrera
Director of Photography, Checco Varese
Edited by Aleshka Ferrero
Music by Carlo Siliotto
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures/The Weinstein Company
English & Spanish with English subtitles
Mexico/USA. 109 min. Rated PG-13
With: Adrián Alonso, Kate del Castillo, Eugenio Derbez, Maya Zapata, Carmen Salinas, María Rojo, Angelina Peláez, Mario Almada, Gabriel Porras, America Ferrera & Jesse Garcia

At a time in the U.S. when Mexican immigrants are vilified for security, economic, and xenophobic reasons, a movie that celebrates their family values makes corny seem meaningful. Under The Same Moon (La Misma Luna) personalizes the push/pull of Mexican immigration into the United States with the sentimental force of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The immigration service is the Scrooge keeping the adorable and resourceful nine-year-old Carlitos (Adrián Alonso) apart for four years from his hardworking mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo). He lives in a poor rural Mexican village as she struggles as an undocumented domestic in Los Angeles. Mother and son are so much in each other’s thoughts that each can vividly imagine they are with the other – under the same moon. Each week climaxes with the immediacy of a Sunday morning phone call.

The benefits of Rosario’s sacrifices to send money and birthday gifts are visible; Carlitos can afford a better education and lifestyle than a ragged boy he meets in town. But this is the kind of film where the coyote smuggler is the maternal Doña Carmen (Carmen Salinas) and Rosario appropriately nicknames one of her rich employers Cruella de Vil. When his guardian and grandmother dies, Carlitos decides to seek out his mother on his own and endures one suspenseful close call after another – he is saved from pedophile traffickers just in the nick of time. During his dangerous and poignant adventure to cross the border and get to Los Angeles, he attaches himself to the reluctant and gruff Enrique (the marvelous Eugenio Derbez, more known as a comedian in Mexico), whose softening is telegraphed in advance as he ruminates that “People can change.” At the same time, the beautiful Rosario has a handsome legal suitor Paco (Gabriel Porras), a security guard at the private gated community where they work, who tempts her with a marriage for citizenship, though they haven’t dated yet.

There are a couple of plot twists and encounters that go beyond broad brushstrokes for more complex characterizations. Contrasting with the Mexican-born migrants, a barely-Spanish-speaking Chicano brother and sister, Jesse Garcia (of Quinceañera) and America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), naively try to earn their college tuition money by sneaking children back across the border. And when Enrique enterprisingly tracks down Carlitos’ estranged father, their reunion is strained and guilt-ridden.

Just as the excellent cast, experienced in both U.S. and Mexican film/television, adds richness beyond the predictability of the script, the Latino song selections add commentary beyond the treacly, swelling orchestral score, from the Tejano pop of Bobby Pulido to the alternative rock band Kinky. Los Tigres del Norte not only contribute one of their trademark norteño story songs about the plight of the migrants, they have an amusing cameo, appearing all-out in silver-studded mariachi outfits. Nora Lee Mandel
March 18, 2008



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