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    Washington Heights

    The shop around the corner

    The wonderful "Washington Heights" uses the very familiar setting of a bodega as an entrance into the less well-known lives of New York's Latino immigrants.


    My favorite bodega in Manhattan was The Hope (La Esperanza) next door to the Nada theater on Ludlow Street. Not only were the owners really friendly, you could buy a turkey sub sandwich with lettuce and tomato for only $2.50. And if you were a few nickels short, it wasn't a problem, you could always pay another time. That coupled with the 89-cent egg and cheese sandwich breakfast special at my second favorite bodega on Dekalb Avenue in Fort Greene kept me going well into the late nineties in this city. (Not to mention, the one dollar cans of Bud Light and 25-cent bags of potato chips).

    Directed by: Alfredo De Villa.
    Written by: Nat Moss, Alfredo De Villa, Junot Diaz.
    Adapted from a story by: Manny Perez.
    Cast: Tomas Milian, Manny Perez, Danny Hoch, Jude Ciccolella, Andrea Navedo, Bobby Cannavale, David Zayas, Callie Thorne, Judy Reyes, Jaime Tirelli, Michael Hyatt, Roberto Sanchez, Sara Ramirez.
    Cinematography: Claudio Chea.
    In English and Spanish with English subtitles.
    La CinemaFe 2004
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  • Another world existed at The Hope — spilling out onto the sidewalks when the weather was fine. Five or six men and one or two boys crowded the counter or sat on milk crates chattering in Spanish. During the summer, the Yankee game was always on. A card table was brought out onto the sidewalk to accommodate days and nights of dominoes. An entire telenovela with a large cast of characters played out in the same place at the same time as my own private dramas and yet they were entirely separate — two worlds existing on top of one another connected only by commerce. I felt, although very comfortable, as if I were intruding on a family moment when I went in to order my sandwich, as if I were interrupting a conversation, a laugh, a game, and indeed I almost always was.

    Washington Heights  
    "Washington Heights," a great film now emerging from the festival circuit, goes deep into the life of a bodega owner — a character whom all New Yorkers will recognize but few actually know. The hope, the promise, the story, the struggle, the work that we sense is behind the best of these bodegas is revealed in all its glory and detail in this pitch-perfect depiction of the American Dream. With strong performances and compelling plot twists, this movie has all the components of a good drama and the details of an original one.

    Directed by Alfredo de Villa, the film opens up with series of shots representing an immediately recognizable Washington Heights — a sexy neighborhood teeming with life. Carlos, in a very strong performance by Manny Perez, is an aspiring comic-book artist. His father Eddie, beautifully embodied with compelling complexity by Tomas Milian, is a bodega owner from the Dominican Republic who is unimpressed by his son's artistic ambitions. They are both grappling with the recent death of Carlos' mother, whom Eddie clearly loved although he was consistently unfaithful to her.

      Washington Heights
    When Eddie is shot during a robbery, Carlos grudgingly takes over the running of the store because Eddie, who can't refuse credit to his oldest customers, owes his friend Sean (Jude Ciccolella) a $25,000 loan. Sean's son Mickey (the well known hip-hop poet Danny Hoch) works for his father as a superintendent and is Carlos' best friend. Mickey needs money to enter a bowling tournament in Las Vegas which his father is very scornful of and refuses to support. Mickey's attempt to get hold of the money for both himself and his friend has tragic and very real consequences.

    The script written by Perez, de Villa and Nat Moss is wonderful, meshing together scenes in Spanish (with subtitles) and English adding to their depiction of the strong and very real tension that exists between the generations in all immigrant cultures. My favorite line in the movie — paraphrased here — is when Maggie the girlfriend (the angelically beautiful Andrea Navedo) says to Carlos: "You think you are an artist but you're just a guy whose father owns a bodega."

    All of the performances in the film are excellent, including a radiant performance by Bobby Cannavale as Angel, the local drug dealer, and "Homicide's" Callie Thorne is perfect as the seductive assimilated Latino rep from Gotham Comics who gets a kick out of Carlos' ethnic riffs. This movie also portrays the circular and impenetrable nature of scenes and cliques in New York — a city where each neighborhood, not to mention profession, has its own dress code. This is a lovely film that nails a specific neighborhood in a certain city at a particular time and by doing so makes it universal — the bodega that we all know as a portal into a world that many of us do not.

    MAY 11, 2003

    Reader comments on Washington Heights:

  • Comic   from Chop, Aug 14, 2003
  • a seminal film   from DH, Nov 26, 2003
  • Wash HTS   from GMAN, Dec 22, 2003
  • Re: Wash HTS   from Uptown, Jan 16, 2005
  • Washington Heights   from Jeroen, Apr 26, 2004
  • [no subject]   from Jesse, Jul 20, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Washington Heights"