Revolution #243, August 21, 2011

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A Better Life: Making "Invisible People" Visible

From a reader

In the film A Better Life, currently in theaters, Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) works hard, all day long in the hot sun. As a gardener in Los Angeles, he hauls debris, scales palm trees and trims the hedges of mansions, hurrying from one estate to another. It is dark when he returns home to East L.A. and to his teenage son, Luis. He is exhausted.

Luis (Jose Julian) is stuck in a prison-like school. We see him in a fight with another youth, then pushed against the fence by a cop. Later, kicking a soccer ball, he and a friend discuss the future, the best option, the friend says is to get "jumped in" to a gang, rather than being stuck in back-breaking poverty like his father. 

At first it seems father and son have little to say to each other. Their relationship is tense and their worlds far apart. But when Carlos's new truck, his ticket to steady and better work, is stolen, Luis hits the streets with him, determined to track it down and to get it back.

Chris Weitz, the director of A Better Life, directed American Pie, New Moon (the second film of the Twilight series), as well as The Golden Compass. Despite having made films with much larger budgets, Weitz told the San Francisco Chronicle that, "I have to say for me, emotionally, this felt like the biggest film that I've made."

Weitz chose current and former gang members to play almost all the gang roles, and these performances are strong. They show specific human beings, not stereotypes. The film also gives glimpses into the Mexican subculture of L.A. and a feel for the life of immigrants like Carlos.

A Better Life lays bare the situation for the worker at the bottom rungs under capitalism, who is worth nothing unless he can labor. Like the 1980s movie El Norte, A Better Life shows the struggle, and the precarious and dangerous lives, of undocumented immigrant workers.

Speaking of the role of Carlos, Weitz told the Los Angeles Times, "All he does is work.  He is invisible—and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble."

Trouble is all around Carlos and Luis, unavoidable and random. A compelling and riveting part of the story is Carlos's refusal to allow himself, or his son, to surrender to the dog-eat-dog ways common in the world around them.

No spoilers here. Go and see A Better Life. Bring a friend and copies of Revolution to distribute. Spend a couple hours looking through the eyes of those who this system forces to live in the shadows, yet who refuse to surrender their humanity.

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