A BETTER LIFE—–flamboyant Mexican leading man Demián Bicher drew a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his deeply moving portrayal in this sadly under-seen 2011 drama, directed by Chris Weitz. Previously associated chiefly with lighter fare, Weitz proved himself a sure hand at guiding serious material and Bicher’s beautifully understated characterization is almost a definition of salt-of-the-earth. ‘Carlos Galindo’ (Bicher) is a gardener, working to exhaustion in Los Angeles, trying to give his son (Jose Julian) a chance at life that doesn’t fall into gangland. When his desperately hard-won truck is stolen, father and son set out to find it, searching the city’s immigrant underlay, an entire society (or web of societies) within the dominant host. Carlos himself is undocumented.
With the crushing inevitability of the classic El Norte (and a structural nod to De Sica’s seminal The Bicycle Thief ), this is a 94-minute heartrender. Convincing in every detail, compassion is the keynote in this sleeper, which took $10,000,000 (Weitz produced as well) to mount but only found $1,759,000 in tickets.
Featuring Carlos Linares, Eddie Sotelo, Joaquin Cosio, Nancy Lenahan and Dolores Heredia. Visual look is superior, thanks to Javier Aguirresarobe on camera, there’s a good, Latin-accented score by Alexandre Desplat. Weitz’ direction is unobtrusively observant, Bicher is quietly magnifico. A much needed tonic to the ignorant racist rants of the immigrant bashers.