Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Don't Let Me Drown (2009)

I caught this on HBO the other day and I was very impressed, and quite taken by this film.  "Don't let Me Drown" is the story of two Latino kids who fall in love in a post 911 New York.  The film is directed by Cruz Angeles, and it is also written by him and Maria Topete.  The film is beautifully shot  by Chad Davidson, and it uses it's New York locations well.  Both families are from working class parents who in some way are touched by the events of 911.  The filmmakers in an interview had an idea about the film as they saw events transpire in New York.  It reminded of them when they were growing up in Los Angeles during the crack epidemic where fear and violence was a common thing.  The director Mr Angeles said in an interview that after the events of 911 fear seemed to sweep the city, and it affected many people.  In the film the two families are knee deep in the 911 events.  One family has lost a daughter, and the other whose dad was a custodian in the towers is now cleaning up at the site, and being affected by the dust.  Both are powerful stories in their own right, but combining the two stories makes the story even more powerful.

There have been several films dealing with the 911 events, but this story is about a love story with two people from different sides of the fence.  I have to say that part of this film that really touched my heart was that the film took place in my old neighborhood in New York.  I recognized locations, and it brought 911 all back to me.  Another viewer probably wouldn't get the nuances that the filmmaker use by using these locations, but I applaud them for having done so.  It makes the film more real, and authentic.

The screenplay was developed by the Sundance Institute, and it shows in the quality in the writing, and in the performances of the actors.    Both E.J. Bonilla as Lalo and Gleendilys Inoa as Stephanie do a remarkable job here.  I buy their performances and they make it real for me.  All the other performers in this film also feel authentic and real, and that's all on them.  Damián Alcázar, Gina Torres, Yareli Arizmendi, and Ricardo Chavira all give powerful performances in the film.  If I can point out one outstanding performance here it's Ricardo Chavira as Dionisio who really gives it his all.  You see anger, frustration, grief, and helplessness all in his face, and you feel for the man even when he gets violent.   The film is raw, and it doesn't flinch in its portrayal of its characters.  All of the characters are noble and are just trying to get past the day, and hold onto their families.  It's this that makes the film so watchable.  You want a happy ending here, and in a way you get it, but its an ending based in reality.  There are no sunsets to walk into.  There is just the day, and the hope that love can push grief and loss away.   

The film does have humor in it also and it makes us laugh at how the characters react to different situations.  How the young generation looks at the old generation is one endearing and at times laughable.  It's this that cements the film as one of those films that gets itself.  The background is 911 after all, and its hard to find any humor in that subject, but by showing how we all get through grief and tragedy with some humor it shows how human we really all are.  This is what makes the film hit home.  At the end of the film I wanted more.  I didn't want to leave the characters.  I wanted more, and yet it's as it should be.  We should be wanting more, but the filmmakers have no ending here.  The characters ending is another day with the promise that love will get them through it, and in the end isn't that how we all try and live our lives?

If you get a chance to see this film see it.  I don't think you'll regret it.  There is some Spanish in the film that is subtitled for us non-speaking Spanish people, but again this only adds to the film.  As I've said before it adds to the authenticity of the film, and it doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the film.  It only makes you love it more.  Very highly recommended.

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