Bread and Roses

Who wants to think about Mexican janitors–illegal aliens, working in the buildings where movie stars do business with their agents, who decide to unionize to end their exploitation? Ken Loach–an unreconciled, unreconstructed Marxist–that’s who. And thanks to this stirring piece of agitprop, I do too. I’ve been hearing a lot of negative things about this picture from colleagues, but it seems like the principal crime Loach can be charged with–and it’s pretty serious–is being politically provocative and melodramatic. For me, that’s what makes Bread and Roses (2000) pretty exciting in spots. Gerald Peary, for instance, says the film “suffers from clumsy acting (mainly Hispanic amateurs), an obvious screenplay by Paul Laverty, and a simplistic view of the characters.” But I was struck by how compelling and believable many of those amateurs are (I especially enjoyed watching a black pro teach the heroine how to vacuum), and by the moral ambivalence and complexity of the heroine (Pilar Padilla). The screenplay is regrettably reluctant to offer certain details–such as management’s viewpoint of the labor dispute’s resolution–and it could have provided a more balanced and analytical view of the labor organizer’s tactics. That the movie aims at the gut bothered me less: that’s what many of the best political dramas do–such as Salt of the Earth, which this frequently brings to mind. There’s an explosive scene between the heroine and her sister that had me in tears, in part because it also made me think–as did the scene of the heroine’s arrest. The formulaic aspects of the story are ultimately transcended by the power and passion of what’s being said. With Adrien Brody, Elpidia Carrillo, and George Lopez. 106 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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