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Not another weepy, heart-on-sleeve call for immigration reform
Matthew Bonifacio's Amexicano tells the wholesome little parable of a purebread, blue-collar, Italian-American from Queens who reluctantly takes a construction position and ends up working alongside an illegal immigrant with a strong work ethic and a determination for a better life. The film is the classic, culturally-relativistic picture that hopes that by creating a character who is rather ignorant to a way of life and forcefully meeting someone who is they, in return, will become more aware and informed about the lives of others.
Written by its lead actor Carmine Famiglietti, the story concerns his character Bruno, who is offered the job by his landlord but is also informed that he will need to head down to the famous "corner" location in Texas where numerous illegal immigrants hang out in hopes that a kind soul will drive by and offer them work for money. Initially, Bruno drives down there and picks up Cesar (Hugo Aleman), a disgruntled and demanding man whose only benefit is that he speaks clear English. After a failed day at work, Bruno then finds Ignacio (Raúl Castillo), a quiet young Mexican man who gets to work immediately after being handed the equipment to do so, despite not being able to speak very clear English. The first job assigned to the men is building a fence, which, take as you will in the metaphorical department. A scene exists while the two are building that shows Bruno working on one side of the fence, while Ignacio is working on another, with the camera located about two-to-three feet above their heads as they work together for the same goal at the end.
Bruno admires Ignacio's incredible work ethic and his drive to be an effective laborer with a good heart. Along the way, Ignacio learns some English with the help of Bruno and his sister Gabriela (Jennifer Peña), and Bruno even picks up some Spanish with the help of a translator. The two become diligent workers together and, in return, learn a little bit about each others culture.
To make Bruno out to be a flaming-Republican, anti-immigration character that would suddenly turn soft-hearted when faced with an illegal immigrant that was actually a hardworking, dependable individual would simply be too far-fetched and asinine to believe. Instead, Famiglietti makes his character to be ignorant and apprehensive but not violently-opposed to the immigrant-lifestyle. Bruno is your practical, working class man with a plan to work hard, earn money, but not always involve himself in the big issues and sometimes have an understandably misguided view of a different lifestyle. For example, he likely views gay people as "weird" but not detrimental or harmful to society.
Famiglietti also does fine work as acting within the boundaries of commonality and normalcy and relating himself to a typical male worker of his era. His chemistry with Castillo doesn't feel forced at all thanks to the relatability of both actors and the equal amount of likability one can put forth to each character. Their chemistry is what largely sustains the film, and because of their character-types, connecting with them is not difficult.
Amexicano, thankfully, is not another preachy cry for immigration reform. It is, however, a nicely human drama that takes a look at differing lifestyles between two characters, one not really knowing or understanding how the other lives and conducts his life, and throws them together by pure circumstance and gives them an opportunity to see how each other is different. Many will see the immigration theme as the top theme in this picture, along with cultural assimilation, but there is also a beautiful angle that explores changing an identity or ones characteristics upon entering a new country, which is a delightfully different one to explore and in a very strong, easily-identifiable format.
Starring: Carmine Famiglietti, Raúl Castillo, Jennifer Peña, and Hugo Aleman. Directed by: Matthew Bonifacio.
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