Leaving your home is a costly, risky proposition. Home is home and to travel to another country is to give up everything that’s important. And yet... people are flexible... people make the best of bad situations... people can adapt.
Coming to America
DFF 37 (2014)
Two stories diverge. A man whose name we only learn much later (it’s Francisco, played by Roberto “Sanz” Sanchez) is a Cuban immigrant living in a remote, barren house in a California desert. His friend (whose name I don’t think we ever learn) drives a nondescript Toyota minivan, often full of immigrants. Francisco houses them and feeds them until they can move on to their next destination on the modern-day underground railroad.
One of his first charges is a young girl of about 10 whose name we learn about halfway through (it’s Cecilia, played by Johanna Trujillo). Her next destination is supposed to be with her father. The man with the van has arranged it. But once on the road she learns that she’s not going to her father, and that the van man intends to keep her. She wisely runs away at a truck stop. She wanders deep into the desert, finding a ruined house where she makes a nest for herself.
She has lots to say to the man in her snow globe. She whispers stories to him as she drifts to sleep. The whispers take on weight as they fill the movie’s soundtrack. She tells stories of sacrifice, a rabbit that gives itself up to a hungry man, and a tree that gives its branches to a boy that grows into a man.
Meanwhile, Francisco narrates letters to his wife back home in Cuba. He tells her that he is doing well, working in an office — this he says as we see him clearing junk from rotten buildings for $12 an hour from an employer who picked him up by the side of the road. Francisco says he takes care of animals on the side — here he means the immigrants who use his bare house to hide for a few days.
Lake Los Angeles is an interesting, moving, and intimate portrait of the life of two emigrants. The film’s ending especially moving, first implying the hopelessness for any who would ever leave home for unknown territories. But ultimately acknowledging that in spite of leaving everything behind, hope is always an option.
This is the third film of Mike Ott’s I’ve seen at the Denver Film Festival, and I’ve liked them all. The credits at the end of Lake Los Angeles are an impressive melange of names - Japanese, Anglo-saxon, Icelandic. Ott’s Japanese co-writer was starred in both, Littlerock and Pearblossom Hwy.
All his films have a low-budget sensibility. They all seem to be set in a sun-faded, bleak California far from the flowers and palm trees of the wealthy hills above L.A.
The IMDB says that this is the Ott’s 4th movie in 4 years, which makes me think Ott has found a stable, like-minded ensemble of a crew, more interested in the work than the paycheck. That to me seems like a healthy way to produce films (so long as you can make rent) and guarantees I will always be interested in seeing their work.