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In this movie, there are no purloined designer clothes to masquerade in,
Prince Charming doesn't come complete with a political career and a
three-piece suit--he's a scruffy charmer in a baggy t-shirt with little
to offer than a megaphone and a cause.
This is a film made by a director who has to be spiritual kin to Michael Moore, but his subject matter is quite different. Here we see real immigrants (both legal and illegal) being used rather cynically by companies whose business plan includes hiring the most downtrodden and fearful and hand-to-mouth in our country, paying them the lowest possible wages, giving them absolutely no benefits whatsoever, and thereby winning contracts to provide custodial and other services over companies that pay a fair and living wage, plus benefits, to primarily unionized employees who are American citizens. You know this really happens. It does. The best remedy for the situation is certainly a matter for debate, but no matter what your political slant or position on labor unions and illegal immigrants, you will most definitely find food for thought herein.
OTOH, if you are also one of the drooling legions of newbie Adrien Brody fangirls, you will find even more food for thought. Brody is painfully cute in this movie-a piquant mixuture of earnest, funny, sincere, sweet, and fiery, topped off with a kinghell case of `bedhead'.
The three central players are Pilar Padilla, as idealistic illegal immigrant Maya, her overburdened sister Rosa, played by Elipidia Carillo, and Brody as Sam Shapiro, an organizer and activist for the cause. No fairy tale, this movie, though a few of the cast are reasonably good-looking. The cast, many of whom really are janitors and custodians, are as real as it gets. You can see a lifetime of hard labor and long hours in their faces, and the slump to their shoulders.
I really grew to like these struggling janitors and maids. None of them were "types"--they were all real people and their conflicts and concerns were illuminated very well, despite limited screen time being available to each. By treating these characters with respect and making them fully-fleshed out, it made the passion of the organizers for this particular cause more understandable, and not just as sometimes seems the case in some portrayals, a matter of someone who is bored or spoiled or has some sort of guilt-complex trying to find their identity and using do-gooderism as a means to that end. Through coming out from the shadows, and joining the great and messy American experience of organized dissent, you could practically see some of these characters changing into `Americans' before your eyes, no matter what their official papers might say. Thinking like Americans, standing up for their rights, making their voices heard. That's how it's supposed to work-isn't it? Isn't it?
If there are caricatures in this movie, then those would be some of the building administrators, but their screen time is so limited, and they are usually so surprised and besieged by Sam Shapiro's stunts and protests that their lack of articulate or sympathetic response seems realistic enough to me. But the one thing that stands out is more than anything else is the absolutely natural acting style. Nobody really seems to be "acting" in this movie. It's as if there was a very unobtrusive documentary maker following these folks around. The movie is, however, well-paced between scenes which are rousing or charming, and those which are raw and painful.
Although this movie is not a love story or romance, per se, Adrien's character does get some action in it. In fact, in one amusing scene, he is literally hauled into a janitor's closet by an enterprising female (smart girl!!) and snogged silly. One can but applaud that sort of enterprise and initiative on the part of a recent arrival to this great country of ours. That's the kind of can-do immigrant spirit that made this country great, and if I were there, I would be sure to tell her how much I admired that quality in her, when I visited her in the hospital to apologize for having accidentally whacked her out of the way with a long-handled mop.
But it can't all be funny and cute, and indeed, in this same section of the movie is a scene of such raw emotion, harsh language, honesty, and truth, between the two Mexican sisters that I cannot say I have ever seen anything like it. Even Ebert said in his review that it's the kind of scene that would win an Oscar if the Academy ever saw movies like this, which of course, they don't.
The ending is both feel-good triumphant, and bittersweet. I think that such an ending was very much in keeping with the tone and overall realism of this movie--yes, some things changed for the better, but for people like these, not everyone gets that happy ending and lives happily ever after. At least, not right away.
There's real passion here, on the part of everyone involved, and it feels genuine, not manipulative. It's a pleasure to see a movie with good quality production values and excellent acting which was made for a reason, not just to make money.
As the daughter of hard-working Mexican immigrant parents and having been
raised in one of Los Angeles' poorest barrios, I often saw the story of
and Maya being played out in real life within my family and amongst my
neighbors. The authenticity with which this story is told is astounding,
showing a deep respect for those who in search of a way to make an honest
living, subject themselves to countless humiliations and are relegated to
live outside the margins of mainstream America.
Kudos to the writers!! This is the first time I have ever seen an American film in which the dialogue in Spanish was written by someone who actually speaks the language and can grasp the nuances and feeling of the language so perfectly. Richard Hicks is to be commended for casting both Elpidia Carrillo and Pilar Padilla in the roles of Rosa and Maya, respectively. They deliver their dialogue, especially in Spanish, with an emotion and passion that is rarely seen on the Hollywood silver screen. Needless to say, Bread and Roses is now on my list of must-have-films to add to my DVD library.
When I attended a screening a week ago sponsored by a local public supported
radio station (KPFK) in Los Angeles, I was not certain if this film was a
documentary or typical crafted Hollywood-style hyperbole since I listened
with half an ear while jogging and listening to an opportunity to
Who would have thought that a simple discussion on a local public supported radio station in Los Angeles (KPFK) a few years ago would compel a screenwriter (Paul Laverty) to visit a union organizing effort in downtown Los Angeles (circa 1999) resulting in a film that was drama, comedy, farce, fear, compassion and a taste of dusted immigrants creeping through Tijuana-to-USA shrubs to gain entry via the abusive "coyotes" human smuggler routes. Most of these immigrants land in day-worker situations and low pay and yet Los Angeles would collapse without them. This film concentrates on the downtown office area -- owned and occupied by the elite of Los Angeles establishment - and where many undocumented workers toil under conditions that are far less than that suggested by international Human Rights standards.
This was a polished non-Hollywood-capability-film but yet intimately Los Angeles. I listened to an interview yesterday on KPFK with Laverty and learned that funding was elsewhere - Europe I recall - not 'Hollywood'. And Laverty is from Scotland. One would never guess that the film was actually on the low-budget scale when compared with Hollywood's pleasure to spend big dollars.
I also learned that the film was made in 30-days (hence the vibrant interaction of all cast members and energetic direction by Loach) and is in release this week with 30 prints in Los Angeles, and 300 nationwide USA. Sounds like some symmetry there and potential Lottery pick permutations.
My only reservation is that the story is highly political in an undercurrent nature and may frighten an extensive audience --- unless the viewers just take the courage to go, watch, and enjoy. The film will do the rest. The viewer will leave with more than the cost of a matinee price ticket.
I also suggest that in an upcoming meeting between Vicente Fox, President of Mexico, and George W. Bush, President of United States, that Vicente snag a copy of the film and show it to George while sipping tea in Texas. And then for dessert, sip more tea and watch "Traffic".
"Bread and Roses" is an engaging film about immigrant workers' struggles against poverty, state violence, and economic exploitation. I saw "Bread and Roses" at the Denver Film Festival thinking it was going to be a dry, lecturing documentary. Instead, it was a nuanced and complex dramatic depiction of powerful and engaging characters. It is rare to find such a politically charged film that is made so effective by presenting very human characters struggling with the contradictions of everyday life. It allows us to appreciate the tough choices we all make in conditions not of our own choosing--it allows us to explore issues outside of the knee-jerk judgments of good guy/bad guy and appreciate the very human responses to often inhuman circumstances we all participate in creating. The acting is generally very good, especially for a "low budget" production, but the main character's older sister delivers a monologue on her struggles with deprivation that still chills me to the bone even though I saw it months ago. Sorry for leaving out the details, but this is one film whose details you'll want to discover for yourself.
This is Ken Loach's first film to be made in America, which might have
proved risky for a director so closely associated with his native Britain
Happily, it is a complete success, proving once and for all that Ken Loach's films are universal because of his attitudes to people rather than his politics. It's a shame Loach is so associated with politics as that puts off an audience who might otherwise enjoy his films.
Bread and Roses is about a group of South American immigrant janitors who protest in order to get union rights. Might not sound exciting but trust me, if you're prepared to watch the film on its own terms, it'll give you far more than Battlefield Earth.
The (mostly unfamiliar) cast is uniformly excellent and it would be a crying shame if they went unnoticed when the little gold statues were handed out. The one "star" name, Adrian Brodey, is superb and justifies the hype which has grown up around him. By choosing to work on interesting projects with gifted directors, he's showing just how hollow most actors in America are today.
OK, it'll probably remain firmly lodged in the Art House ghetto and no one will see it. But if you're bored of special effects, if you're tired of Hollywood cliches and if you want to see something mature for a change, check it out.
I have a deep sympathy & connection with this movie, because two of my
dearest friends were Spanish-speaking cleaners in the UK (although
completely legally). Now - through ridiculously hard work and frugal living
- they are bilingual, educated, skilled, and making a decent life back in
their home country, where I hope to visit them one day.
As such, I can tell you that this film is so true-to-life it brought tears to my eyes. It also has moments of laughter and comedy, and an extremely important message to anyone working for low wages and low respect, and an equally important kick up the backside to people like me who never think we're paid enough, and forget about the 'invisible' people earning half our wages for doing twice the workload.
The actors (many of them cleaners in real life) are never less than excellent, and you have no trouble believing every scene. I encourage anyone to watch this movie, as it has an almost Shawshank-like feelgood factor, but is much more poignant and relevant than even that great film.
The additional programme on the DVD is not as informative as I expected (being more 'fly-on-the-wall' than documentary), but still packs a powerful emotional punch, and really adds to your appreciation of the reality behind the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes, this film is about a "dreary" topic, labor organizing and workers
struggling for a living wage. Yes, it is political in taking the point
of view of the workers. Yes, the "heroes" are janitors, some of whom
are "illegal" immigrants. These might be reasons why you might be
"turned off" by the movie. BUT, if these are your reasons to refuse to
see it or give the movie a bad review, then you are only judging this
film with your HEAD, not your HEART or your GUT. I agree
with the reviewer who said that if you are not totally moved by the relationship of Maya and Rosa and what happens to them and the other workers, you need a
First of all, the movie, the characters, and the conflicts ARE complex, but the complexity is complicated and sometimes very subtle, just like in real life.
Just because it doesn't "show" you the life of the mean boss (played brilliantly by comedian George Lopez, whose humor about being Mexican in America is as
sharp as Chris Rock's about being Black in America) outside of his work doesn't mean that he is "one-dimensional." It's not hard to understand why he would be such an asshole at work, towards other "brown" people who are immigrants like him (or perhaps his parents or grandparents; he does speak Spanish but it's not clear whether he himself is an immigrant). Think about it! This is a guy who has probably sucked a lot of ass himself to get where he is--a brown manager in a large American corporation, working in one of the largest buildings in downtown L.A. Don't you think he's got a lot at stake himself to keep his job? Is he going to let a bunch of unruly janitors working under his thumb threaten his position as king of the hill of working colored people? Isn't he ultimately just as vulnerable as the janitors themselves?--the coporation probably sees him as a dime a
dozen too, if he doesn't do his job--which is to protect the corporation. Of course he's going to be ruthless and therefore "one-dimensional" in this environment. As for the other "corporate" workers, lawyers, etc.--they are ambushed by the workers in an environment where they expect them to be invisible and meek. I don't think it would be realistic for them to have any other initial response than shock and disbelief. This would also come across as "one dimensional" for
those who are only interested in seeing the "other side" get some sort of "equal play".
This is NOT a simplistic illegal immigrant-as-saint -and-totally-triumphant hero movie. Maya IS punished at the end for robbing a gas station and is deported on a bus to Tijuana. The INS officer tells her she is lucky to get off so lightly and indeed she is. Her sister Rosa does have to whore her way to the U.S. and is a traitor to her fellow workers. Maya comes across as young and impulsive and
morally a little questionable at times (she steals to help her friend get his scholarship), which is what she is. It's both what makes her charming and
vulnerable. Her Mexican immigrant boyfriend accuses her of ditching him for
the labor organizer (Sam, played by Adrien Brody) because he's white, and she denies it a little too vehemently.
I found that Adrien Brody was a far less powerful presence in the film than the actors who played the workers. His zeal as a labor organizer was legitimately questioned--by Maya, who asks him, what does he have at stake, as a college- educated worker whose $22,000 organizer salary is still almost double that of the janitors and who doesn't have to support extended relatives like they do? And his supervisor in the union also becomes upset that his risky
confrontational antics will jeopardize the union and wants him to back off the entire fight. That scene displays enough of the intra-union politics to show that unions themselves are imperfect crusader agents--they also pick and choose
battles, often choosing the ones that they think they can win. And self- righteousness is probably an easy trap to fall into for union organizers when the odds against their victories are so high; they gotta find some reason to continue this hard work!
I agree that the scenes of Sam, confronting the building manager, and the
ending where the corporation all of a sudden bows down and decides to settle
w/ the striking workers and reinstate all of them, are unrealistic and less than convincing. But on the whole, this a movie that punches you in the gut, has
good humorous moments and good pacing, and characters that make you care
about them, IF you are open to it and pay attention to subtleties that are there.
Elpidia Carrillo has a scene in this film equal to the "...I'm the best possible Arnold Burns" self-justification speech in A THOUSAND CLOWNS. It's so real and raw it's almost hard to watch. I saw this film at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, and it so beautifully delivers the drama and the realities of the Justice for Janitors campaign. Ken Loach does it again...with an American accent (ALL the Americas). Adrien Brody is Ron Leibman's NORMA RAE organizer if he were younger and less seasoned, but just as much the true believer. Pilar Padilla's Maya is all passion and youth and fun-loving troublemaker. The documentary style that Ken Loach uses is perfect for the subject.
As Sam Shapiro, a labor activist who helps Hispanic janitors in an L.A. office building to form a union, Brody's blend of earnestness and mischief really livens up this well-meaning, sometimes moving, occasionally didactic Ken Loach film. Brody's beard and bedhead make him look especially cuddly; no wonder engaging heroine Pilar Padilla eventually drags him into a closet for some hot and heavy nookie! :-) (My husband also remarked that all that hair made Brody's prominent proboscis look, well, less prominent -- not that Brody's noble nose ever bothered me, thank you very much! :-).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"As a white person I had been taught about racism as something which
puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of
its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.
I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in
invisible systems conferring dominance on my group." - Peggy McIntosh
"Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man." - Henry Hazlitt
"Bread and Roses" was director Ken Loach's first feature to be set (and filmed?) in the United States. The film was funded by small European financiers and received limited distribution in the US. Though Loach waters down his narrative for Hollywood audiences the film's fairly conventional, plot-wise his customary mix of political sermonising and urgent neorealism (what he calls "socioeconomic realism", an offshoot of socialist realism) remains absolutely abhorrent to most moviegoers. For this, he remains marginalised.
Its title alluding to a 1912 textile mill strikes in Massachusetts, "Bread and Roses" revolves around a workers' strike in a non-union office building in downtown Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood. Much of the film revolves around impoverished office workers and Latino immigrants, who struggle for decent wages, to keep their families together and to fight against their ethnic and professional "invisibility". Sounds familiar? Loach has been making such films for decades, but this is one of his best. He skirts around most "Coroporations vs Little Guys" clichés, and focuses instead on the ways in which underclasses prey upon themselves, and how such bickering serves only to bolster exploitation. Corporate executives and limousine liberals, who pick up humanitarian awards while relying on custodial firms who pay less than minimum wage, remain off camera, alluded to but never seen.
Loach's cast is primarily composed of non-actors, but some famous faces turn up. Adrien Brody plays a young union organiser named Sham Shapiro, and exudes a nice mix of likability, scruffy dissidence and intolerable smugness, his character self-righteously mouthing union maxims from the safety of suburbia. He organises the workers, helps them unionize, but they take all the risks, and his sheltered, financially stable life-style is far removed from their squalor. Brody's the son of the great Sylvia Plachy, photographer, artist, left-winger and radical.
Comedian George Lopez also turns up. He essentially plays a supervisor of janitors, a monstrous spawn of capitalism and Latino machismo who protects his position by ruthlessly enacting the will of the bosses, cultural and familial ties be damned. And then there's veteran actress Elpidia Carrillo, who plays a burnt-out Mexican woman who betrays the unions. A volcanic last act revelation, in which she spells out for her righteously indignant little sister why she did what she did, is particularly mind blowing. Here the actress summons a powerful blend of tear-inducing pain and fury. Her revelation hammers home the point of the film, the point of many of Loach's films, and a point which Bertolt Brecht famously laid out almost a century ago in "The Threepenny Opera": "First comes food, then comes morality". Brecht's statement encapsulates a range of human behaviours, primarily two which operate as a sort of double-helix or feedback loop; man ignores immorality because he fears of losing what he has, and man ignores morality when he has nothing.
Somewhat unique for this "type" of film, Loach's immigrants are not portrayed as some ubiquitous, exotic mass, but full characters with diverging, very individual views, some indifferent, some self-centred, some politically informed (and indifferent or self-centred for diametrically opposed reasons) and some engaged in political activity back in Mexico. They are not naive pawns led by Brody, who in another director's hands may have developed into a white saviour. Brody's gang are real, savvy, and have their own deeply embedded (and often conflicting) modes of survival.
For all its cathartic fury, for all its nods to 1920s Soviet Cinema, with its marching militants, placard pumping, Eisensteinian ideals and collective heroes, Loach's last act is ultimately pessimistic. Our heroes are shipped back to Mexico and we're suspicious of even what little has been won. Loach, like John Sayles, is too much of a small thinker to navigate his way out of the problems his films deal with. And while his brand of cinema is necessary, there is a feeling that, as Theodor Adorno once showed, though art represents a resistance to the violence of conformist thinking, non-conformity itself wasted away long ago, became insipid, became consumer goods. Art can no longer be a refuge for truth, Adorno believed, in the long term it will merely represent a flight into illusion, even if it does have a dialectic force. Still, Loach at least encourages some engagement with a prevalent form of cultural metapathy, which is not just traditional "apathy", but a pathological indifference, in which all manners of misconduct (from stolen elections to "benign" policies which actively court illegal immigrants) can happen without the batting of an eyelid.
8.5/10 Worth one viewing. Makes a good companion-piece to "Salt of the Earth" and "My Name is Joe".
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