.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

May 26, 2009

Tribeca 2009: School Desk


Picture this: you tell your family and friends that you have an idea for a new movie about a Colombian woman coming to the U.S. with her two children and husband. Two weeks after arrival, he abandons them, she then must struggle as a single mother against all odds: including hunger, homelessness, a home-made abortion. Your friends will probably think this story is too much; not realistic.

Well, you better believe it, because this is the life story of Paola Mendoza, writer, director and leading actor of Entre Nos (2009), who dedicates the film to her mother, who fought and never gave up, envisioning a bright future for Paola and her brother. Gloria La Morte co-wrote and co-directed this film that probably would be impossible to achieve without this double-helmed collaboration, being such a tremendous challenge for Mendoza to embark on all these roles, especially being a personal poignant story.

There is a very interesting and diverse casting: Andrés Munar (TV series Law & Order, Che) plays husband Antonio, first-time actors Sebastián Villada and Laura Montana play children Gabriel and Andrea, and two experienced actors like Anthony Chisholm (TV series Oz) and Sarita Choudhury (TV series Kings, Lady in the Water) play Joe and Preet, integrating amateur and professional performances into a balanced, authentic combination. Multicultural Queens, New York is the scenario for this immigrant chronicle where immigration is not the main theme, it is a given and actually, it is barely addressed. What allows the plot to develop is Mendoza and La Morte’s focus on the whole emotional journey of struggling to survive beyond a visa status. Mendoza plays Mariana, the mother, whose first instinct is to provide a daily solution for her children’s basic needs; she is also overwhelmed by the situation.

At some point the plot leaves some important questions unanswered: Why did Antonio abandon them? Why did they never try to call for help in Colombia? We don’t know if that was part of the true story or flaws in the script. Though there is a permanent collaboration between Mendoza and La Forte, the team took an important risk having Mendoza playing such a personal role in her first feature directing herself. But it’s not pretentious, simply because it’s a tribute to Mendoza’s mother. Said that, we must give a lot of credit to this team: it was a first feature for La Forte, and a second feature for Mendoza after her collaboration with Gabriel Noble (P-Star Rising, also in the Festival this year) in Autumn’s Eyes (2006).

Beyond some forced shots and a plot that becomes somehow predictable, this Tribeca All Access Alumni team have a bright future on their hands. Entre Nos has some glimpses of humor inside the drama, and it is an example of hope, inspiration and dignity, not only for most of the immigrants coming to the U.S., but also for all kind of people that must struggle in life. Empanadas for $1, collecting cans for 5 cents, and many other odd jobs that most New Yorkers ignore make possible accomplishing the American dream that still so many immigrants pursue. It is not necessarily becoming a successful artist, or a top executive, or living in a democracy. For many, it’s as simple as having the opportunity to sit in a school desk, the very basic step to have a dream coming true.

(Written for Remezcla)