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"A prime reason ¡Alambrista! was important then - and is now - is because it balanced, deepened, and enriched our national conversation about immigration." - from Charles Ramirez Berg's BD booklet essay
Criterion / 97 Minutes / 1977 / Unrated / Street Date: April 17, 2012
The drama at the center of ¡Alambrista! is sweetly, often beautifully harrowing. Its story of a Mexican farmworker headed north to the swimming pools and movie stars of the U.S. of A is predictably brutal narratively, but director Robert Young approaches this devastating material with a particularly savvy eye, finding glimmers of crystalline visual clarity under the heap of the movie's dramatic atrocities. In short, ¡Alambrista! is a film that is as heartbreaking as it is profoundly evocative.
What impresses off the bat with the picture is how delicately it treads upon its material. Its tale of an illegal immigrant named Roberto (Domingo Ambriz) navigating the labyrinth of trouble that this new culture presents him has the potential of being preachy and liberally jingoistic, but Young lets his imagery do the talking in ¡Alambrista!, and the results are powerfully understated.
In fact, ¡Alambrista!'s finest moments are its most muted ones. There's a devastating sequence in the film where our protagonist almost reluctantly becomes involved with a lovely woman (Linda Gillin), but this is no forbidden romance. Their intimacy comes to a head when Roberto has her help him send a money order off to his wife and kids in a sequence that cleanly and coldly proves that they both know the roles they're supposed to play in this slippery society they're now a part of. It's damning, but charmingly so.
¡Alambrista! is a formidable discovery for Criterion, a movie that appears on Blu-ray with heady, elegant dramatic attack. This isn't flag-waving, histrionic cinema, it's a quiet snapshot of a life and a culture in flux, quite literally a chronicle of worlds colliding and shrapnel falling where it will. With bold visualization and characters who are empathetic without being holier-than-thou, ¡Alambrista! succeeds in capturing Roberto's plight with heavy, immersive emotionality. It'll leave a bruise on you, but you'll be glad you made the journey.