Monday, September 26, 2005

Casa de los Babys (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

John Sayles gained reputation of independent filmmaker by tackling the complex racial and social issues of contemporary America in a way that defied both Hollywood conventions and simplistic approaches of Hollywood Limousine Liberals. His films had great number of characters, each of them often representing certain social group, and their everyday lives revealed some truths America and the rest of the world preferred to ignore, especially during the decades of Reagan and Clinton. These days, when America-bashing becomes part of the world's cultural mainstream, Sayles' approach isn't as innovative and refreshing as it used to be, which often results in disappointing films. One of such disappointments is his 2003 drama CASA DE LOS BABYS.

The plot takes place in unnamed South American country affected by great economic crisis that forces many mothers to give their children for adoption. This becomes a booming business, especially for Señora Muñoz (played by Rita Moreno), owner of the hotel where six women from USA wait for administrative process to be completed. The loose plot revolves around those women, revealing slices of their lives and characters, as well as the lives of those around them - illiterate and glue-sniffing street children, young maids and unemployed men who seek fortune through lottery.

Like in all Sayles' films, the diverse set of characters of CASA DE LOS BABYS - each representing certain segment of society - is skillfully introduced and the audience is intrigued by gradual revelation of their personal secrets and the way those secrets fit into the grand scheme of things. The very good cast, featuring veterans like Moreno, independent cinema icons like Lili Taylor or younger actors like Maggie Gyllenhaall, also contributes to this effect. Sayles also puts semi-documentarian style of shooting and editing to good use.

Unfortunately, Sayles apparently didn't know what to do with all those characters. The film ends too abruptly, with some of the subplots and characters looking underdeveloped and underused, while some scenes are overlong and look pretentious. CASA DE LOS BABYS lacks any sort of cathartic plot resolution, and instead the audience is left with impression of a political pamphlet not very different from others that come from left-leaning Hollywood these days - an unsubtle and over-simplified vision of the world where rich, white Protestant Americans are source of all the world's injustices and brown-skinned inhabitants of Third World their helpless victims. This simplicity is disappointing when it comes from someone like Sayles, and annoying when it isn't not followed by any hint how to tackle those issues.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

Written on September 26th 2005


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