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Blu-ray Review: ALAMBRISTA (The Criterion Collection)

Joshua Brunsting

May 2nd, 2012

Of all the issues that plague the political world here in these United States of America, very few may be as polarizing or as much of a 'hot button' as immigration. Everyone has their own take on the subject, and frankly, it's arguably the most important issue that has yet to truly have much of a presence on the big screen.

Save for the occasional documentary like Louis Malle's brilliant AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, very few films or filmmakers have been able to give a potent and affecting look at the American immigrant experience. Save for, perhaps, one of the more interesting attempts from a (then) young and first-time director, Robert M. Young.

Entitled ALAMBRISTA, the film is not only an intimate and impressive look into the life of an immigrant simply striving to make his and his family’s lives better, but is also a historic release. The first winner of Cannes’ Caméra d'Or prize, the film has finally hit Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection. While it may be a slight and semi-superficial feature debut for Young, it’s also a moving character study.

Young is the true star of here, crafting a feature film that would play as a meditative predecessor to films like the early works from Gus Van Sant (MALA NOCHE comes to mind) as well as works from an entire era of filmmakers that would ultimately make their name in the ‘90s. The film features lyrical sweeping camera shots, visceral close-ups, and a cavalcade of potent set pieces that illustrate the plight of men and women trying to make their lives better for both themselves, and their families. It’s a truly naturalistic film, featuring natural lighting and great photography from Young himself.

The cast here is fantastic and includes relative unknowns, from top to bottom.  The biggest name here is Edward James Olmos, who is featured in an interview on the supplements despite a brief, albeit effective role. Domingo Ambriz stars as Roberto, joining the likes of Trinidad Silva, Linda Gillian and even one Ned Beatty, all of whom seem ripped right out of an Alan King documentary.  The film itself oozes such a great and distinct sense of realism that these performances are just a microcosm of what truly makes this film such a superb piece of work.

That said, the film is quite slight. A broad reaching character study, the film almost doesn’t even seem to have characters with real names, who are instead just caricatures or ideals. Though the performances are truly great, when combined with an aesthetic that lacks palpable intimacy, the viewer is left at a distance. We are never try let inside these characters.

As far as a release goes, this one is admittedly superb. A film that, superficially, looks and feels like a member of Criterion’s bare bones series of spine numbers, is given both a brilliant transfer, and also some really solid supplements. The transfer looks great, and the sound is top notch, from the dialogue to the great sense of ambience.  A commentary is included featuring Young and fellow producer Michael Hausman that is really informative, as is an interview with Olmos and a short documentary, helmed by Young, entitled CHILDREN OF THE FIELDS.

Overall, while the film may be a tad too broad for its own liking, the film is a fantastically made bit of independent cinema, that affectingly gives a glimpse into the life of a migrant worker. Not everyone’s cup of tea, the film is just what the doctor ordered for those looking for a film that looks into a world that one may not be otherwise privy to. Incomparably made, this is one film that shouldn’t be missed.

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