[Screened at the Cinequest Film Festival 9, San Jose]
The "asphalt nomads" are a subculture that enjoy spending nights driving around Manhattan in their 70's era large American cars. One of these nomads is El Cid Rivera. El Cid lives in New York City and has an insular life, bounded geographically by the island of Manhattan, and restricted socially to his former grammar school friends who also have no reason to explore the world outside the Big Apple. His friends include Telly, a part-time professional wrestler, The Rev, a former priest and current toll booth attendant with a weakness for women, Chuckles, who helps people find apartments downtown, and Eddie, whose only real passion in life is the maintenance of his hair. The other character involved in the story is Officer Geraldine Fusco, with whom El Cid had a fight in fourth grade, and who has had a grudge against him ever since. Although their relationship mainly consists of her trying to run him down to seek her revenge, it has obvious romantic potential.
This film has much in common with the film Swingers. While that film was about a group of guys and their relationship with Los Angeles, this film also has a motley group of young male friends and it explores their relationship with New York. Anyone who is charmed by the physical beauty of New York City is rewarded by many picturesque views of the Manhattan skyline, and is almost made to feel jealous of the main characters in their possession of it in their daily lives. The city itself becomes a character in the story. Like a loving parent, the city nurtures and provides everything that the characters need, but as El Cid finds, there is a time when a person must leave home and establish a relationship with the greater world. Ultimately the story is about El Cid's relationship with New York, his surrogate mother, and his desire to live a more meaningful, independent life.
At regular intervals, the film takes the approach of presenting other "nomads" in almost a documentary style of them speaking directly to the camera defining and explaining various aspects of the nomad subculture. Although these characters are not really involved in the main narrative of the film, they provide a significant depth to the story by coloring the characters of El Cid and the city. There is the feeling that the other nomads are given a little too much screen time and their views are repetitious, but their extended monologues over superbly selected music provide a pleasant, reflected respite from the comedy of the main story.
Besides El Cid, none of the characters are fully developed. In fact, some of his gang remain shallow, and almost appear to be stereotypical eccentrics. However, the story is solely about El Cid, and it is quickly apparent that his gang of friends are merely a manifestation of the light, colorful, and comic side of his life, while the nomads represent his deeper, reflective self. Although El Cid is in his 30's, this is actually a coming of age story, with the summation being El Cid moving on to a more mature stage of life.
Highly recommended. This is not a perfect film, but is actually rather ambitious, and mostly successful. Although much of the humor is of the silly variety, the story is able to deliver genuine laughs throughout.
(c) 1999 Murali Krishnan The Art House Squatter http://pages.hotbot.com/movies/murali24/
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