The marketing and distribution of movies rarely reflects the specific values of the filmmakers, but Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna) is an exception. By releasing it in the United States and Mexico at the same time, the studios are embracing its transnational message, and reaching across borders to find common ground.
Director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos were both born in Mexico and have spent much of their lives in this country. Their film tackles a heated political issue (illegal immigration) with cool heads and warm hearts. Under is the first feature film for both, and they wisely choose to leave the polemics to activists and talk show hosts, focusing instead on the dynamics of a family divided by the desire for a better future.
On a Sunday morning, Carlos Reyes (Adrián Alonso) and his mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) make their way to payphones for their weekly call. It's Carlos' ninth birthday, and the conversation reflects their deep connection as well as growing frustration. Rosario left her young son in the care of his grandmother four years ago when she made the treacherous crossing to the United States, settling in Los Angeles. She sends money home every month, but it's becoming clear that as Rosario makes a living, she's missing out on a life with her little "Carlitos."
Under follows mother and son during one tumultuous week when each decides to make drastic changes. Rosario begins to re-evaluate her worth in the shadow economy of the undocumented, and look askance at the price of her sacrifice. Meanwhile, Carlos is doing what his caregivers have tried mightily to prevent: making the dangerous trek to el norte on his own.
The road he takes is populated with predators, enablers and more than a few angels to guide this smart, resourceful boy. In the key relationship between the precocious Carlos and his reluctant traveling companion, Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), director Riggen shows a steady hand. What could easily have become schmaltz is instead a clear-eyed awakening for Carlos, who must confront abandonment and learn to see his parents as fallible.
There's a strong current of wish fulfillment propelling this, a willingness to acknowledge the possibility of reconciliation while recognizing harsh realities. Carlos crosses a lot of borders on his journey, taking those first few steps into adulthood on the way.
At Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.