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
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.
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.
|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
"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
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.
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|
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La ciudad from Rosa Delmy Alvayero, Sep 18, 2000
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