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A Better Life (2011) ****

A better LifeA Better Life wisely pushes its socio-political agenda to serve as the backdrop for a more humane drama. It is the story of a single, hard-working, illegal immigrant father from Mexico, living with his son in a poor neighborhood of LA. The father, very well played by Demián Bichir, struggles to make ends meet. He does this, working as a gardener, and all the while constantly worries about his son, in the face of the teenager’s seeming temptation to join the local street gang. Ultimately, the son, subtly played by José Julián, whom I hope to see more in future films, is the film’s hero – undergoing a change. But much of the film focuses on the father, fighting against hope with one wish in mind, as simply stated in the film’s title – a better life. The screenplay for A Better Life was written by Eric Eason based on a story by Roger L. Simon. Chris Weitz directed the film with a steady hand, making it look and feel very real. Kudos are in place, aside of a scene towards the end which is unneededly soupy, and takes away somewhat from the film’s undertone thus chilling effect.
The topics covered in the film are wide and include illegal immigration, gangs, single parenting, poverty and generation gap. Yet, subtlety in acting and empathy to the characters are key in making it all work. The film reminded me of another wonderful film about illegal immigrants – the 2008 The Visitor which, again, focused on one single humane story rather than trying to preach. In that, both these films bring to mind no other than a Joseph Stalin quote: ‘The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic. (this is, by the way, not a plot spoiler: nothing in these films has to do with death but rather, again, the concept of focusing on a single humane story rather than preaching to the masses).
Maybe one day we will be able to share John Lennon’s vision: ‘Imagine there's no countries... And the world will be as one.’

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