It's amazing how these things work out. My next film after The Age of the Medici directed by Roberto Roessellini the father of Neo Realism is Alambrista! a film from the 1970s that perfectly captures the Neo Realist aesthetic. This is why I like going through the Criterion Collection. This is a film I wouldn't normally choose. I'm more of a genre nut. I'm more interested in the samurai and action movies on the list but this film blew me away. It's currently my favorite new discovery. I'm shocked this film hasn't had a revival. It's subject matter is more relevant today than ever before.
In 1977 this must have been dynamite. Alambrista! tells the story of Roberto, a young man in Mexico. After the birth of his first child he decides to head to America to find better pay that he can send back home. He makes it across the border and becomes an illegal or alambrista. What's fantastic about this film is that it never delves into melodrama. It doesn't force things. Roberto looks for work. Tries to get by and avoid the police and immigration officials. This movies has the confidence to sit back and let the situations play out.
Roberto finds work in the fields. He meets another illegal named Joe who's more experienced and shows him the ropes; like how to order breakfast without arousing suspicion. Later the two head to Stockton California. This sequences is powerful because it shows just how much danger Roberto is really in. Just getting to another town can literally be a life or death situation. In Stockton he meets a young waitress and hooks up with her despite his promise to stay faithful to his wife in Mexico. Again this is a situation that could devolve into melodrama but it never does. Even the scene where Sharon the waitress learns Roberto has a wife back in Mexico is wonderfully understated. Her reaction is all in her eyes and nothing more. Roberto is sent back but he quickly joins a new group headed to Colorado. There he discovers his long lost father in the only major contrivance of the entire movie. Roberto discovers his father had another family in the states and spent his final days living in an auto junkyard.
This movie was directed by Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene) and stars Domingo Ambriz as Roberto. They both did marvelous jobs. Roberto is a compelling character although he doesn't say much. He simply tries to make the best of whatever situation he's in. Young' directing is spot on. Several shots look like they come out of a documentary. The movie is devoid of traditional bad guys. The cops are just doing their job and they are portrayed by several real life officers. Even Ned Beatty who sends the illegals to Colorado is trying to make a fast buck.
This is the kind of movie I wish more people would study, both directors and writers. The pseudo documentary style of the film is fantastic. It gives the story an immediacy. And writers could learn a lot. Sometimes understatement is the most powerful way to make a statement.