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  •  REVIEW: LA CIUDAD



    La Ciudad

    La vida local

    The Latin American immigrant community here in New York gave filmmaker David Riker his inspiration, his non-actor actors, his sense of realism, and his stories drawn from the real lives of people just getting by in a tough "ciudad" far from home.

    By KRISTINA FELICIANO
    Offoffoff.com

    At the beginning of "La Ciudad" (The City), a laborer reads a letter from his wife in Honduras. She says that it has been raining constantly and she doesn't know what she'll do if it doesn't stop soon. Watching "La Ciudad," which describes the lives of typical Latin American immigrants in New York, one feels as if the rain never does stop. Shot in black and white, the movie, a lovely tribute to the people whose lives it depicts, is as overcast as the gray days that have left this worker's wife feeling helpless and alone.

      
    LA CIUDAD
    Original title: The City.
    Written and directed by: David Riker.
    Cast: Jose Rabelo, Stephanie Viruet, Anthony Rivera, Cipriano Garcia,Leticia Herrera, Silvia Goiz.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Four stories make up "La Ciudad": There is the worker, who is among a group of men chosen from a street-corner labor pool to salvage bricks from a crumbling building in New Jersey; a homeless man and his young daughter, who live out of a station wagon and survive on donations from those who attend puppet shows the man stages in an abandoned lot; a young man who meets his true love at a Sweet 15 party he happens upon his first day in the city and then literally loses his way back to her; and, in the most heartbreaking of all the vignettes, a gentle seamstress who is constantly thwarted in her efforts to send money to her ailing daughter. Most of the roles are played by non-actors, and the stories are based on actual experiences, lending the film the uncompromising feel of a documentary.

    La Ciudad  
    "La Ciudad" is the feature-film debut of David Riker, who has a light touch that serves his difficult subject matter well. Riker was born in Boston but raised in Brussels and London, a city whose immigrant population obviously made an impression on him. Riker was a photojournalist before he was a filmmaker, documenting the anti-nuclear movement in various parts of the world. During this time, he also shot portraits of Japanese survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But he felt the images he created were not enough and that his subjects ought to have a chance to speak for themselves. So he left photography to pursue filmmaking, enrolling at NYU Graduate Film School.

    In 1992, Riker made a 15-minute student film called "The Puppeteer" that would not only win him awards (among them the Student Film Award from the Director's Guild of America) but would also inspire and become part of "La Ciudad." Interestingly, "The Puppeteer," for all of its despair, is a bit out of place in "La Ciudad." It's the least immediate of the four stories, perhaps because it is the most fanciful, in the same way that the circus-like surrealism of Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" took the edges off of Giulietta Masina's pain and sorrow. "The Puppeteer" begins with a shot of two oversized hand puppets quarrelling in a striped handmade puppet theater. The puppeteer himself is a pleasantly rumpled man in a heavy overcoat and a knit cap with a pompon on top. His daughter, a quiet child who collects scratch-off lottery cards, goes around with her hat after the show and collects money from the children and adults who have gathered in the rocky lot to watch. Later, back at their vintage station wagon, father and daughter share an orange that he carefully peels for them both. There's something romantic about the way their predicament is portrayed. Had the father been something other than a puppeteer, had he not been wearing that slightly silly hat, had we seen how hard it was on the child to live in those circumstances, this segment might have had the impact that the other three did.

    For the other three segments, Riker did a great deal of research within the Latin American immigrant community. The entire process, including shooting and editing the film, took him five years. He spent time with the men of the day-labor pools. And "Home," the story of the young couple who meet at a Sweet 15 party and discover they are from the same Mexican town, was inspired by one such party Riker had attended.

      La Ciudad
    For "Seamstress," "La Ciudad"'s final installment, he spoke to garment workers in Midtown Manhattan, whom he met by passing out more than 40,000 leaflets about his project over the course of a month. For the title character, Riker, who culled the entire cast through dramatic workshops he organized with immigrants he encountered in his research, settled on Silvia Goiz, a seamstress from Mexico whose own life revolves around her work at a sweatshop. "Seamstress" is the most fully realized of the movie's four stories. The plot itself is rather simple: Ana, who works as a seamstress in a sweatshop, is trying desperately to send money home when she learns her daughter has fallen ill. What makes this story so beautiful and devastating is the way in which it's told and the amount of ground it covers beyond the character's own story.

    First we see Ana, a soft-spoken woman with not a bad word to say about anyone. She hasn't been paid in four weeks but is confident her bosses will make good on their promise to give the workers their due the following week. She works, she goes home and attends to her housework, and then a neighbor relays a message from her mother (Ana does not have a phone). It's about Ana's daughter. Next we see Ana at one of those storefronts that sell long-distance phone time. Even something as simple as checking in with her family is a costly chore for Ana. Her mother needs her to send $400 for the care of her daughter, who has been hospitalized. Ana asks her boss at the sweatshop for at least some of her back pay. The boss, herself an Asian immigrant who is oppressed by white clients who make outrageous demands, refuses. There's a moment of hope and, nearly, joy when Ana's neighbor thinks she has just the solution. Together they go running down the street with their arms full of frilly white children's dresses the neighbor has made. They dash into a store stocked wall-to-wall with such frocks and beseech the manager to take a look. But the manager cuts them off; he does not buy "from people off the street." Ana's face changes at this news. Her friend is buoyant enough to persist, but Ana's spirit is waning.

    The rest of the story goes on in this manner, with one disappointment after another, each one revealing something new about the challenges of Ana's experience — and that of all her fellow immigrants in the big Ciudad.

    OCTOBER 26, 1999
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on La Ciudad:

  • La ciudad   from Rosa Delmy Alvayero, Sep 18, 2000
  • La Ciudad   from karona57, Mar 17, 2001

  • Post a comment on "La Ciudad"