Under the Same Moon

No Boundaries can Separate Family

Directed by Patricia Riggen. March 2007, USA/Mexico. Rated PG-13: 106 min.
(Review never published; written in 5/2008)

Filmed on location in Mexico and in Los Angeles, Under the Same Moon marks the third directing effort by Patricia Riggen, who won an award at Sundance Film Festival for her short documentary entitled Family Portrait (2004). The Spanish-language film acquaints the majority of its American viewers with an unfamiliar point of view: that of the illegal Mexican immigrants risking arrest, deportation, and sometimes a good old fashioned nightstick battering from the INS, which they call the “Migra,” in order to make money from the lowest-paying jobs America has to offer. Legal or not, these immigrants are still people with the same basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter as anyone else.

Under the Same Moon
earns sympathy by presenting the tragic – but necessary – separation of nine-year-old Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) and his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo). She has lived and worked in LA as a cleaning lady and gardener, sending $300 back to Mexico each month, for almost half of Carlitos’s short life. With his father out of the picture, Rosario placed her son under the care of her aging mother. Two nights after Carlito’s birthday, the grandmother dies suddenly in her sleep, and Carlito decides that in order to avoid being adopted by his cruel aunt and uncle, he will use whatever means possible to cross the border and reunite with his mother. This includes laying motionless in a closed box with only a pinky-sized breathing hole in the back of two college kids’ minivan while the prying eyes of the border police scan for contraband. The hard voyage to the north rattles young Carlito, but he misses his mother so much that enjoying her loving embrace seems worth any possible risk.

At the same time, however, the film earns contempt. The flawed and quirky characters charmed me more often than not, but sometimes – particularly in the latter half of the 109-minute duration – the plot would twist in unlikely directions in attempts to raise the stakes and increase the dramatic payoff at the conclusion.

I commend Under the Same Moon for its premise, politics, and setup, but I wish that screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos would have spent a couple more hours at the drawing board ironing out wrinkles in the diegesis.
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