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flick pick | Bread and Roses 2000
Directed by: Ken Loach
Written by: Paul Laverty
Starring: Pilar Padilla, Adrien Brody, Elpidia Carrillo
Language: English and Spanish [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for
something: serious
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis When Maya [Pilar Padilla] sneaks across the Mexican-U.S. border into California to live with her sister Rosa [Elpidia Carrillo], it’s with dreams of a better life. Things get off to a rocky start when the two scumbags who smuggle her into the country, pissed off when it turns out Rosa doesn’t have quite enough money to cover the "service", refuse to let Maya off their van and instead flip coins to decide which one of them will get to have a little fun with her. Fortunately Maya’s a lot cleverer than they are, and manages to escape and find her way towards Rosa’s house. Things start looking up for Maya once she finally manages to pester Rosa into getting her a job working alongside her as a night janitor in a fancy office building. Though the boss, the manipulative tyrant Perez, informs Maya that she’ll have to split her first two months paycheck with him, Maya’s just thrilled to have good, steady work. And though the wages are already low, and the benefits nil, Maya and the other mostly illegal immigrants that the janitorial company employs know their job options are limited. Then one day a charismatic young labor organizer named Sam Shapiro [the ever-appealing Adrien Brody] shows up to try and convince the janitors to band together, and fight for their right to a fair wage. Many of the workers are torn – they understand all too well how much they have to lose – but rebellious Maya, not a little bit charmed by Sam and idealistic enough to believe they can really make a difference, manages to persuade a small group to join the crusade.

Review There’s no getting around the politics behind Bread and Roses: if you’re the sort who prefers their movies to be free of any sort of agenda or message, you have been warned. British director Ken Loach, who’s built a career out of using film to express his very leftist, pro-labor political views, doesn’t make much attempt to be subtle about where he stands on the illegal immigrants’ rights and union issues. In many ways, Bread and Roses feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction: you learn a lot about the way unions work – how they come to be organized, the tactics they employ, and the tension that inevitably arises between the union organizers, committed to succeed in their efforts despite the fact that they get paid regardless of the outcome, and the workers themselves, who risk losing their much-needed jobs. And the film really makes you think about things you’ve probably never thought about before: how much that cleaning lady in your ritzy high-rise office building makes, for instance, and whether she’s getting paid enough to support herself and her family (and if she’s an immigrant, possibly an extended family back in her home country as well), and if it’s not enough, why the boss in his snazzy suits and big-bucks lifestyle doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, or doesn’t care. Like I said, the politics are hard to avoid. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Loach’s movie benefits from three amazingly excellent performances from its three lead actors, who bring a complexity to their characters that makes the movie seem more than merely a vehicle for moral and political didacticism. Bread and Roses has a message, but it has a heart too -- and it’s the heart that makes the message worth a good listen.—reviewed by Y. Sun

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