Racism and social prejudice in modest but honest film
Patricio (newcomer Eugenio Roca) is a young black immigrant from Guiné living in the outskirts of a big Spanish city. No-nonsense, strict and proud, he shares a small apartment with two other African immigrants, has menial jobs and faces his daily share of racism and prejudice. One day, an American basketball star-player gives him an elegant suit ("El Traje" = "The suit") and, as soon as he wears it, it feels kind of magical: people no longer treat him as scum or invisible, and even a lovely girl (Vanesa Cabeza) gives him some attention.
But things suddenly go wrong: he's forced to leave his apartment and spends the night in a lodging, where middle-aged-white- Spanish small-time con artist Pan con Queso (Manuel Morón) picks all Patricio's money (which in fact belongs to a friend) while he's asleep. He goes after Pan to get the money back, but Pan has by now spent all of it. Pan, threatened by Patricio's physical superiority and relentless pursuit, proposes him a deal: that now-homeless Patricio moves in the abandoned, decrepit hotel he lives in until he gets the money to pay Patricio back. At first loathing Pan's petty scams but having to condone with them (and even participate) so he can have his money back, Patricio gradually realizes the suit is no shield from society's prejudice and that he and Pan -- beyond differences of skin color, country of origin, age and social/cultural background -- share the same basic "handicap": being poor, unemployed and outcasts in a society ruled by cash, property and exterior signs of wealth.
Director Alberto Rodríguez avoids sentimentality and pseudo-social-thesis tone, fights most clichés and includes a welcome subtle sense of humor. However, the film is hampered by young Eugenio Roca's stiff one-note acting, and by too many side stories and supporting characters. Definite pluses are Manuel Morón's rich characterization as Pan and Vanesa Cabeza's disarming beauty and charm. "El Traje" is an interesting (if not exciting) film, worth a look to see how social prejudice and racism are expressed very much the same way in most rich capitalist cities around the world -- the film could easily take place in Chicago, Paris, Hamburg, Tokyo or Sydney, with very little need for any adaptation.
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