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This movie, an adaption of Tomas Rivera's short novel "...y no se lo
trago la tierra" (And the Earth Did Not Devour Him), is a fairly
accurate representation of both Hispanic social/religious values and
the social/political hardships of Latino migrant workers during the mid
twentieth century (i.e. worker exploitation and social discrimination).
This film's producers and director did a very good job of choosing to adapt to cinema a select few of the novel's passages to achieve a story that strikes a very good balance between presenting Hispanic culture and the numerous challenges facing migrant workers, thus resulting in a coherent story via the observations and reflections of the protagonist that sincerely describes the life, in general, of Latino migrant workers.
I definitely recommend this movie and the book for those who need some enlightenment about the shame of worker exploitation and the strength of the human spirit.
Peace to All...
After reading Y no se lo trago la tierra, I was very curious to see how
it's unique writing style of flashbacks and memories would be
transferred into film. The book, even though confusing at times,
brought very vivid images into my imagination and even caused chills
down my arms on occasion. The film, though brilliantly shot doesn't do
the book justice.
I don't know how the film-makers decided which parts of the book actually made it into the film, but one of the saddest stories in the book, "The Night Before Christmas," about the children at Christmas time not getting anything but fruit as presents and the mother who was prone to panic attacks, was completely left out of the film. To me, this was one of the stories, that gave me chills and even made me teary eyed. I really wish the film-makers would have included this story.
I was also not pleased with some of the unnecessary changes to some of the details in the book. In the book, Marcos wants to be a telephone operator and in the film, a radio operator. Why dishonor the author's choice of words? The film does has wonderful moments, like the mother praying for her son's safe return home. It was sad in the book but heartbreaking on film. All in all, I think the film should be shown as a companion piece to the book but no movie could have captured the visuals I saw in my mind while reading this book.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Recently finally available in DVD (11/11/08), Severo Pérez' film...and
the Earth Did Not Swallow Him (1994) is based on one of the most highly
regarded and discussed novels in Chicano literature. Tomás Rivera's
...y no se lo tragó la tierra/ ...and the Earth Did Not Devour Him
(1972) is still generally acknowledged by many critics and serious
readers as the classic Chicano novel. Originally written in the Spanish
characteristic of South Texas and also translated into English,
Rivera's novel continues as an indispensable presence within the
Chicano literary landscape.
Perez' film, originally made as a highly-rated American Playhouse PBS production has taken some time to be released in DVD. One can only wonder about this matter because its high quality is not an issue. The film, and now DVD, however, remains, so far as I know, the only cinematic adaptation of any Chicano novel and clearly is a tribute to Earth's incredible staying power. This cinematic version also strikes an exceptionally deep-rooted nerve that is, I maintain, both specifically ethnic, yet also generally universal. Doubts about Earth perhaps might have arisen because it is too "ethnic," too alien from a basic American mainstream, too much a "foreign" art indie, too limited in economic resources. Yet, Perez in his version of art, in my opinion connects very effectively, artistically, and creates a sharply-etched portrayal of a Chicano migrant collectivity that focuses on daily family life. As far as a production done with relatively limited economic resources, its lovely cinematographic work and haunting music go much beyond its available funding. Simply viewing the film makes manifest this film's (or DVD) artistic value.
Briefly, .and the Earth did not Swallow Him portrays in a neo-naturalistic way the plight, the suffering, and the despair of Chicano migrant laborers as they follow the crops northward from South Texas to Minnesota in 1952. The local priests bless the beat-up, overstuffed vehicles of these Chicano laborers who can no longer find work in the area and must follow the agricultural trail of the migrant worker northward. This Chicano collectivity, like the depression-era Joads in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, forms an epic tide, driven by economic need, a survival instinct, and anguished despair, and ultimately a barely flickering faith. A tribute to these people of the earth, a collective hero, the DVD is centered on a focal family, and most especially emblematic is a young protagonist within the family, a boy, perhaps twelve or so. This work then, also, functions as a bildungsroman. Ultimately, the viewer's sense of identification is generated through the experiences, subjectivity, and the struggles of the protagonist. Poverty, alienation, child labor, illness (sunstroke and a pregnancy death), discrimination, school absenteeism (the boy's escapism from the bullies of discrimination is spent lying down in a lovely, peaceful cemetery) are laid bare as matter of factyet, also symbolically. Worse still, the problematic conflict between the youngster and his mother goes beyond socio-economics and political conflict, into deeper realms of psychology and metaphysics. In a desperate but artistically rendered struggle, the youth battles his mother, an archetypical Mexican-American traditionalist, a representative of god's will, content with prayer, resignation, consolation, and acceptance. The rebellious youth cannot believe in a god that would permit such evil and suffering to be visited upon them. How can God be so cruel, he asks, since his little sister is certainly purely innocent, as to come down with serious illness in the fields? At this point, the boy must overcome obstacles even more daunting than poverty and discrimination. The issues now include death, doubt, and despair, and lack of meaning. And he has few resources available to himstrength of character, his own will power, his intelligence, and a powerful survival instinct. In this desperate, but artistically rendered struggle, the unnamed youngster, the central figure, feels the necessity of his enduring, of his achieving a heightened sense of meaning, and, the viewer hopes, a renewed and strengthened Life Force that can serve as an inspiration to Chicanos and others.
This stark battle makes use of a plot device just touched on by the original work to tie the episodic work together: missing immigrant laborers from Mexico who leave no trace upon their death, although this DVD deals not with Mexican but Mexican-American migrant laborers A highly existential work: anguish and despair; a quest; a focus on a Project; and redemptionall under the auspices of free will in spite of the deterministic socio-economic and religious circumstances.
Perez has a long list of credits basically as a documentary filmmaker. His many awards are confirmatory. The producer Paul Espinosa is also well-known and has been likewise honored for his work. The 1994 film, in fact, won and deserved a number of awards: first place, audience favorite at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 1995; first place at the Cairo Film Festival; and a number of other well-deserved awards.
In my opinion this film and DVD, Earth, by Perez is the best Chicano film that has been made.
I was very moved by the young life experiences of a man who rose so high in the academic world. A hard life surrounded by the love of a close family and extended family of companion workers created a person able to succeed in the world. For the most part the Hispanic culture is shown as I have always observed and admired - hardworking, optimistic, and truly family oriented. The points of religious superstition were quite authentic to the Catholic church. Without a doubt,the actress who played the mother deserves an Academy Award. Her prayers for her missing son moved me to tears. I will recommend this stunningly thoughtful film to my friends and family.
Sergio Perez manages to enhance and convey the original work of Tomas
Rivera through style and voice.
This film is a good companion for comparison to the original book titled "Y No se lo Trago la Tierra..." (And the Earth did not Devour Him...)by Tomas Rivera. Rivera's work is critiqued as impressionist work, and this movie depicts this style. Sergio Perez Films has brought my imagination to life.
Both subtle and clear devices of suggestion were used through the language, set background, and plot to achieve the power of suggestion and communication.
The film was made with meticulous details with regards to life as a migrant worker in the mid 1900's. The film portrays religious, mythical and family values in the midst of adversity. Adversity which makes mankind strong.
Get your compassion Kleenex out... you'll love this movie.
The movie ". . . And The Earth Did not Swallow Him," based on the book
by Tomas Rivera, is an eye-opening movie for most people. It talks
about the exploitation that migrant farmworkers go through in order to
Sergio Perez uses impressionistic techniques to depict Rivera's story. He uses sienna and gray-scale effects to depict some of the scenes, and he uses specific photographic techniques to make the scenes look like they took place in the 1950s.
Perez also gives life to the film by using time-appropriate music, including balladeering and guitar playing.
I feel that it is a good film to view because it shows in detail how migrant farmworkers live, what they do for entertainment, and their beliefs.
I ordered this DVD after reading about it and watching Jose Alcala's
performance in Finding the way home, a TV movie that was made in 1991.
Coming out of the hands of Tomás Rivera (19351984), son of migrant workers and who worked on the fields, the portrayal couldn't have been better done. It's no wonder the 1971 semi-autobiographical novel won the first Premio Quinto Sol award.
Director Severo Perez has endeavored successfully to preserve the mood and emotions of the Mexican migrants while he was 75 years old.
Playing the role of the boy, Marcos, the main character, Jose Alcala's acting career seems to have ended after this movie which was released in 1995. What happened to this child-actor? He must be in his late 20's or early 30's now.
I rented this movie from a local library without having any prior
knowledge of the book it is based on or the movie itself, purely based
on the chance that it's one of those rare, overlooked gems that one can
discover from time to time and really enjoy.
Unfortunately this is not one of those movies. I am not sure if this is a movie driven by sentimentality or worse, deliberate agenda, but certain elements of it made it impossible to immerse. It is supposed to portray a struggling immigrant worker community which tries to cope with the difficult realities of their life. That is a fine premise and it could have made for a gripping story, but the execution just made me alternate between getting annoyed and amused at the ridiculousness of it.
Here we have a community of simple farm workers who migrated to the US in search of employment and who get used and abused repeatedly by evil white men. And when I say evil - I mean EVIL. All white people in this movie are sinful, racist, sadistic, abusive devils whose sole purpose in life is sexual depravity intertwined with exploiting the poor immigrants. It would be a sad story if it wasn't so unintentionally grotesque and therefore hilarious.
The portrayal of the immigrants is also a poster-worthy example of exaggeration except that it goes in the opposite direction. The immigrants are saintly, clean and could serve as ointment for boo-boos and ouies the world over. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw these "field workers" presumably digging in the ditches all day with their notoriously clean clothes and chiseled hair cuts from a top notch hair salon. A little restraint and a more unbiased hand at the helm could have made this a much better movie evoking some intended emotion rather than sarcastic snickers.
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