Film-Forward Review: [CASA DO LOS BABYS]

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

Señora Muñoz (Rita Moreno)

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Directed by: John Sayles.
Produced by: Lemore Syvan & Alejandro Springall.
Written by: Sayles.
Director of Photography: Maurizio Rubinstein.
Edited by: Colin Monie.
Music by: Mason Daring.
Released by: IFC.
Country of Origin: USA. 95 min. Rated: R.
With: Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Rita Moreno, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal & Susan Lynch.

In a heart-rending scene, Asunción (Vanessa Martinez) sits on the hotel bed she is making to hear Eileen (Lynch) fantasize about her future with her adopted daughter. Asunción doesn’t pretend she knows English but since Eileen is clearly divulging, she listens politely, then mentions her own daughter whom she had to give up to care for her younger siblings. Asunción begins to cry, telling Eileen that it’s a comfort for her to imagine her little girl “en el Norte” with a mother like Eileen. Eileen is left apologizing that she doesn’t understand a word of Asunción’s Spanish, and the compliment falls on deaf ears. The scene is painful to watch, but emotionally satisfying, and brilliantly portrayed. Such is the Casa de los Babys, where unwanted children in an unspecified Latin country (Mexico) are adopted by sometimes sweet and sometimes monstrous Americans and Europeans. Among the sweet ones are Gayle (Steenburgen) and, although a little naïve, Jennifer (Gyllenhaal). Leslie (Taylor), the tough New Yorker, is vulnerable underneath the crusty exterior, of course. And Skipper (Hannah), while also friendly, is ridiculed by the others for her unfaltering workout regimen–a vestige of the shock of losing three babies either to miscarriage or birth defects. But Nan (Harden) threatens, bribes and bullies the local adoption lawyer. She steals, lies, and pretends she’s had something to do with Eileen’s paperwork finally going through. While the scenes that make up the majority of the movie–the simple, lyrical interchanges between these mostly interesting characters–are provocative and wonderfully acted, the film’s ambition is its greatest drawback. It is, after all, about nature vs. nurture, cultural imperialism, parenting, language barriers, good vs. bad, two-way exploitation, Mexican (though it isn’t specified as Mexico) politics. So when one would hope to see the many (mostly convincing) threads sewn together in a satisfying conclusion, the film instead simply ends. Joel Whitney, Poet/Screenwiter, Teaches at Fordham University
September 12, 2003



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