'Collisions': Film Review

Collisions - Publicity Still 2- H 2019
Frazer Bradshaw
A sincere but heavy-handed dramatization of all-too-common injustice.

A junior-high girl must take charge when ICE arrests her mother in Richard Levien's deportation drama.

Richard Levien's deportation drama Collisions opens with a claim that even those who follow such things closely will likely find shocking: A title card informs us that every four minutes, deportation separates a parent from a child in America — not just any child, but one who is a U.S. citizen.

That factoid by itself packs a harder punch than this sincere film, whose author's desire to support the undocumented is stronger than his storytelling skills. Having worked to date mostly as an editor on documentaries, Levien is shaky in directing actors and seems not to get that, while a journalist might present every factor that makes her story a humanitarian outrage, fiction will quickly feel manipulative if it takes the same approach. Collisions all but screams "Issue Movie," and is extremely unlikely to reach anyone but the already convinced.

Izabella Alvarez plays Itan, a junior-high kid who's not only a whiz (she's building robots at school) but responsible for most chores at home while her widowed mother Yoana (Ana de la Reguera) works four jobs. Itan has a tween-sized capacity for resentment, and wants nothing to do with the traditional Mexican clothes her grandmother sends up from Oaxaca. She just wants to get into a science high school and embark on an upwardly mobile, all-American life. Then she comes home from school one day to find that, without leaving a note or calling her school, ICE has taken her mother into custody.

Itan and her little brother Neto (Jason Garcia Jr.) eventually wind up in the care of an uncle who hasn't seen them in six years. The movie makes its disapproval of Jesse Garcia's Evencio pretty clear: flask in hand, porn mags lying around, indifference to both his sister and her kids. A trucker, he won't even take them to Phoenix, where Yoana is being held, until Itan offers him $1,000 from her college fund.

While Evencio's the one who understands how the government treats people in Itan's shoes — expecting them to find offices hidden behind unmarked doors, refusing to say where (or if) their loved ones are in custody — it's the child who must become a digital detective, writing code to query an online system about Yoana's status, and turning Collisions into a road movie once she bribes her uncle.

We'll learn that Yoana was arrested once, 12 years ago, for shoplifting. Needlessly worried that this will make us unsympathetic to her, the screenplay anxiously clarifies that she was stealing baby formula to feed her child. The film might as well name one of its ICE agents Inspector Javert. Similarly extreme injustices await Yoana in the system: She's prevented from even calling her kids to tell them not to worry, and the film's depiction of immigration officers certainly plays to the perceptions of viewers who see ICE and DHS as a homogenous mass of unfeeling rule-enforcers.

True to its genre, the pic slowly cracks the ice between Evencio and the kids, though it requires Alvarez to maintain a sour, disapproving attitude much longer than necessary. Though Levien throws substantial obstacles in their way, the family is, of course, reunited, albeit not in a way many viewers will (or should) accept. As with its opening, Collisions ends with a moment that speaks more loudly than all the scripted indignities preceding it — with a mother soberly acknowledging that, as needlessly wrong as it is, the best thing for her children might be to allow herself to be separated from them.

Production company: Mitchell Street Pictures
Cast: Izabella Alvarez, Jason Garcia Jr., Jesse Garcia, Ana de la Reguera
Director-screenwriter-editor: Richard Levien
Producers: Jesse Garcia, Vincent Cortez, Richard Levien, Tamas Bojtor
Executive producer: Heidi Levitt
Director of photography: Frazer Bradshaw
Production designer: Will King
Costume designer: Amber Loudermilk
Composer: Justin Melland
Casting director: Heidi Levitt

In English, Spanish
80 minutes