Under the Same Moon

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Toronto International Film Festival

NEW YORK -- This Mexico/U.S. production about a young illegal immigrant trying to find his mother in Los Angeles overcomes its narrative shortcomings with a surfeit of heart. It's certainly a soft-centered examination of the lengths immigrants go to in order to cross the border. But director Patricia Riggen doesn't shrink from depicting the dangers and humiliations that illegal immigrants face. Only a contrived ending mars a well-meaning and thoughtfully executed film.

Immigration is, of course, a divisive subject in the U.S. So "Under the Same Moon," which is sympathetic to immigrants, won't sit well with everyone. But the fact that this immigrant is a friendly little boy means it still could entertain those hostile to his cause -- even if they don't agree with the underlying politics. It's screening at Toronto and also opens the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Latinbeat festival Sept. 7 and will be released March 21 by Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co.

The story plays out as a road movie set between Los Angeles and Mexico. Rosario (Kate del Castillo), an illegal immigrant, lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a cleaning lady. She sends money back to her son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), who lives with his grandmother in Mexico. When his grandmother dies, Carlitos takes the money and sets out to rejoin his mother. Unfortunately, he loses the cash during a tense border crossing. He has to use all his ingenuity to get to Los Angeles.

The drama comes from the many people Carlitos meets on his journey. He might be cute, but that doesn't mean everyone wants to help him. He has to pay some Chicanos to smuggle him across the border. A junkie tries to sell him to a gang, presumably for child prostitution, and a fellow traveler treats him as a major inconvenience. Fellow immigrants who do help don't seem overly concerned about his safety because life is harsh for all of them.

The Los Angeles sections of the film show the day-to-day life of his mother, who's unaware of her son's journey. These are nicely attenuated. The director takes care not to portray her as a victim, even though life is difficult. She remains upbeat and hopeful despite of her problems. Some scenarios are a bit cliched, but viewers generally will warm to her optimism and resilience.

"Moon" is calculated to have mainstream appeal. It has moments of melodrama, and these are bolstered by a heavy-handed orchestral score. The characters' lives are tough, but the director's portrayal is not as gritty as the immigrants in, say, Richard Linklater's "Fast Food Nation." These concessions to the mainstream soften the tone.

One negative is the end scene, which plays out in a contrived manner. The conclusion of this film is never in doubt, but it still would have been nice if the director had chosen a more credible way to depict it.

UNDER THE SAME MOON
Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co.
Potomac Pictures and Creando Films
Credits:
Director: Patricia Riggen
Screenwriter: Ligia Villalobos
Producers: Patricia Riggen, Gerardo Barrera
Executive producers: Ram Bergman, Norman Dreyfuss, Ligia Villalobos
Director of photography: Checco Varese
Production designer: Carmen Giminez Cacho
Music: Carlo Siliotto
Editor: Aleshka Ferrera
Cast:
Carlitos: Adrian Alonso
Rosario: Kate del Castillo
Enrique: Eugenio Derbez
Running time -- 109 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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