Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Movie Review: Which Way Home

Which Way Home ***
Directed By:
Rebecca Cammisa.

Every year, thousands of people try to illegally cross the border from Mexico into the United States, where they hope to find a better life for themselves and their families. It isn’t just Mexicans trying to cross, but people from all South American countries, who feel that there is no hope for them where they live, and want to start again. Among these thousands of people are many children – often who come alone with no adults to look out for them. They make the journey of thousands of miles on top of trains, and have to try and fight off corrupt police as well as smugglers, just in an attempt to get to border in the first place. When they get there, they have to try and dodge the border patrol as they make their way through the desert. Many of these people die out there in the middle of nowhere – all alone in the world.

Which Way Home is a fascinating documentary that follows some of these children as they make this long, perilous journey. They talk of home lives that are not good – stepfathers who hate them and beat them, dead parents, no jobs, no money, no hope. Yet, in many ways these are typical kids and teenagers. When the filmmakers track down they kids families back in their home countries, we can hardly believe what they say about their own kids. How they are lazy deadbeats, who do little but drag them down. These kids are 13 years old – of course they’re lazy! In North America, this is par for the course, but down there, these kids are essentially unwanted by a lot of their families. It makes you wonder why they didn’t use birth control. Parents hope that if their kids make to America, they will be adopted, and then be able to send them money. Who is out there adopting teenagers for South America?

And yet, somehow, these kids have not given up on themselves. They talk about going to America, getting back in school, becoming doctors, making money and sending it home to the very families that do not want them. They do not give up on themselves, but instead fight to make it for weeks at a time. There are some groups out there to help, but mainly the people they meet along the way only want to exploit them.

The filmmakers do not either hinder or help them on their journey. Instead, they just sit back and observe them, and what they go through. Are they just another group exploiting these kids? Not really. The kids would be doing this regardless of whether or not the filmmakers were there. And in America, where there is so much posturing and grandstanding about illegal immigrants (right Lou Dobbs), it is valuable to see the people try to get across not as criminals, but as real people with hopes and dreams of a better life.

The movie suffers a little bit because of Cary Fukunaga’s excellent fiction film, Sin Nombre, which came out earlier in 2009, which told a similar story. Sin Nombre had the advantage of being able to better tell the story, because the filmmakers could get the characters to do whatever they wanted. That film was more dramatic and powerful. But Which Way Home is more true to life – it’s messier, less predictable and just as heartbreaking. This is a good little documentary.

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