I thought Cinequest was over more than a month ago...but I did manage to beg a few screeners from some of the filmmakers whose films I couldn't manage to fit into my schedule. I finally had a little time to watch them. First up was the winner of the Cinequest Special Jury Award for Narrative Feature, "A Better Life (Una Vida Mejor)".
So I have to emphasize, I watched this on DVD, not in the theaters, and as such it's not really the same. It's not fair to the movie, but it's better than nothing. With that said, "A Better Life" is a powerful drama that blows right past the statistics and politics and tells very personal human stories about immigration--obviously a big issue in California. The title is somewhat ironic, as a better life is the goal of the three families, but it appears to be an unattainable goal. It opens with an illegal border crossing, where Javier, Maria, and their young daughter are abandoned by their guide 100 miles from the California border. They make it, and eventually get work on a farm and eke out a living. Already in America, Omar and Sofia are also illegal immigrants, but having more trouble getting by. Omar has trouble finding work, so he turns to crime with his buddy. Their target is the only white couple in the whole neighborhood (based on the faulty premise that if their white, they must be rich). That couple is Sam and Nancy. He's a social worker (and has become too jaded for his job), she's a nurse on the night shift. Things move forwards to the inevitable tragic conclusion, but it's the journey there--the characters and their struggles--that is more important than than the ending. All in all, a powerful film.
Oh, and I also have to mention it made great use of black and white cinematography, and the soundtrack was really good. I mention the soundtrack because A) it was effective at establishing a dreamlike but tragic tone throughout the movie, and B) it was producer/composer Mike Reynolds who gave me the screener. Thank you!