Magazine article The American Conservative

East Side Story

Magazine article The American Conservative

East Side Story

Article excerpt

[Under the Same Moon]

THE ONCE LIVELY Mexican film industry stagnated after it was nationalized in the late 1950s but revived in the 1990s with the loosening of the government's velvet stranglehold on the arts. Last year three art-house films by Mexican directors, "Babel," "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Children of Men," garnered a total of 16 Oscar nominations.

Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans in the United States continues to soar, eliciting the interest of movie moguls hoping somehow to woo the enormous but opaque illegal-immigrant market away from the Univision television network. (Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was a huge hit among undocumented filmgoers, but Hollywood would rather not remember that missed opportunity.)

Expecting synergy, the Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight paid $5 million at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival for "Under the Same Moon," a sentimental family film made by Patricia Riggen, daughter of a Guadalajara surgeon. (Part of the film's $2 million budget was provided by the Mexican government.)

"Under the Same Moon" tells the dual stories of a 9-year-old boy who stays with his grandmother in Sonora and his illegal immigrant mother, who has lived in a garage in East L.A. for four years so she can send him $300 per month she earns cleaning expensive homes. Neither one has a telephone, perhaps due to the high phone charges imposed by Mexico's private landline monopoly, which has made its owner, Carlos Slim, the second richest man in the world. Mother and son communicate only via a Sunday morning call from payphone to payphone. When the lad's grandmother dies, he pluckily sets off for Los Angeles. Meanwhile, not knowing the boy is on his way, his mother vacillates over whether to marry a handsome security guard with a green card or return to Mexico to be with her son.

Theorizing that "Under the Same Moon" could be, in the words of the old "Saturday Night Live" parody ad, both a floor wax and a dessert topping, the studios released it simultaneously both in downscale theaters in Latino neighborhoods and in upscale cinemas for Anglos who like socially conscious foreign films with subtitles.

Through inept planning, I managed to check out both prongs of this novel marketing strategy. …

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