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    Sleep Dealer

    Dreams for sale

    First-time filmmaker Alex Rivera's "Sleep Dealer" weaves a smart tale of a networked future in which everything is available online — or denied in reality — including your thoughts.


    We connect. We don't connect. We connect. We don't connect. We connect. We don't connect.

    Directed by: Alex Rivera.
    Written by: Alex Rivera, David Riker.
    Cast: Leonor Varela, Jacob Vargas, Luis Fernando Peña, Giovanna Zacarías, Marius Biegai, Emilio Guerrero, Jake Koenig, Ursula Tania.
    Cinematography: Lisa Rinzler.
    Edited by: Julie Carr, Madeleine Gavin, Alex Rivera, Jeffrey M. Werner.

    Related links: Official site
    Village East
    187 2nd Ave at 12th St.
    AMC Empire 25
    234 West 42nd St.

    That's the tension on display in director Alex Rivera's "Sleep Dealer," a thoroughly engaging human drama cloaked behind a sci-fi backdrop in which people seek to build physical "�" and personal — walls among each other and yet find ways to open up.

    In "Sleep Dealer," Rivera imagines a futuristic world where people divide themselves through border walls yet connect via the Internet. It is a world where corporations build dams to store up water so they can sell it to farmers. It is a world where "aqua-terrorists" seek to destroy those dams. It is a world where workers "plug" themselves into a network of computer robots to do jobs thousands of miles away. It is a world where people link up to computers to sell their memories — for a price.

    Sleep Dealer  
    Memo Cruz, the film's main character, is a migrant worker from the Mexican village of Santa Ana del Rio. He wants to leave home and find work in the big city. Aching to escape, Memo, through a homemade radio intercept, eavesdrops on conversations of other people in the big cities. One night, he overhears the transmissions of security forces patrolling the dam area around his village. Memo is soon discovered, and a remote-control drone attack takes out his home — and the life of his father.

    Filled with guilt, Memo heads north toward the border city of Tijuana. On the bus ride there, he meets Luz, an aspiring writer who, unknown to Memo, sells her memories of people, places and things to interested clients via "the net." In her apartment, Luz connects her body to a computer via implanted nodes in her body. She tells the computer what has happened to her on any given day. The computer records those memories. She then sells those recordings for money.

    Meanwhile, Memo "�" after Luz helps him get his own nodes so he can plug his body into the net "�" finds a job at a high-tech factory. There, workers connect their nervous systems to the net to control robots that labor outside the walls of the border city. The workers often toil until they collapse, earning the factory the nickname of "Sleep Dealer." The story all comes to a head when a mysterious buyer of Luz's memories of Memo wants to locate Memo because their paths have crossed before.

    Actors Luis Fernando Peña and Leonor Varela, who play Memo and Luz, complement each other quite well. Luz is eager to befriend Memo for her own reasons and Memo is eager to forget his past and start a new life in the city. The characters come together and eventually find ... well, a connection.

      Sleep Dealer
    Even though the movie is billed as a sci-fi film, it never lets you forget the human drama that is at its core. Compared to most Hollywood big-budget films, the sci-fi spectacle here is rather incidental. You see more action from any Saturday-afternoon movie on any number of cable channels.

    Director Rivera moves the plot along quite naturally. His storytelling never seems forced. He doesn't try too hard to hit you over the head with what he wants to say. He simply lets you see the world as he would see it.

    Even though this is his freshman foray into filmmaking, Rivera shows us that he is quite plugged in to how people connect and disconnect. For example, Rivera deftly shows us that corporations "�" and people "�" want to connect and yet disconnect at the same time.

    Corporations connect with people through robot technology whenever they want work done. Corporations disconnect by erecting dams and hiring workers who carry out their tasks from some safe distance. Corporations connect and disconnect on their terms.

    People connect by "plugging" themselves into the net to find out about each other. People disconnect by plugging themselves into the net since they are not really meeting each other face-to-face. People are connecting, but from a safe distance.

    With "Sleep Dealer," it's all about connecting. Rivera clearly took that to heart.

    APRIL 17, 2009

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