Dir/scr: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland. US.2006. 90mins.
Winner of both the jury and audience prizes indramatic competition at Sundance this weekend, Quinceanera is a warm-heartedportrait of a trio of outcasts in the conservative Latino community of EchoPark, East Los Angeles, who pull together as a family of sorts. Glatzer and Westmoreland's second collaboration after thegay porn drama The Flufferis a sensitive, sweet and astute crowd-pleaser which should be a popular itemamong upscale audiences around the world.
Whether it will breakout into the growing Latin population of the US ala Y Tu Mama Tambien is uncertain, bearing in mind the strong gaythematic elements and social realism of the milieu. White arthouseaudiences are a more likely domestic target for the film, although its trickytitle (pronounced "Quin-see-an-yare-aa") and blend ofEnglish and Spanish languages will providechallenges.
Nevertheless, its winningspirit and strong critical response should help Quinceaneraexceed the performance of other Latin-themed US-set stories like Raising Victor Vargas or Mi Vida Locaand rival that of Real Women Have Curvesand Maria Full OfGrace.
International audiences willbe more likely to embrace the film for its charm and be less influenced bycultural considerations.
A quinceanerais a celebration in South American culture of the passage of a young girl fromchildhood to adulthood and takes place on a girl's 15th birthday. It'sa big business and, in the Latin communities of LA, can involve limousines, newdresses, a large party and gifts.
The film starts with the quinceanera of a girl called Maria, but the story centreson her brother Carlos (Garcia) and her cousin Magdalena (Rios).
Magdalena is a 14 year-olddreaming of her own quinceanera in a few months, whoselife is shattered when she finds out she is pregnant - even though she and herboyfriend Herman (Cruz) didn't actually have penetrative sex.
Carlos, meanwhile, is atough twentysomething who has been thrown out of the familyhome on suspicion that he is gay. Carlos has moved in with his great-great-uncleTomas (Gonzalez), a kind, never-married octagenarianwho makes a living selling a Mexican hot drink on the streets.
When Magdalena's religiousfather discovers that she is pregnant, she runs away to live with Tomas andCarlos. Despite initial friction, the three form an unusual family unit, eachone supporting the other and each aware that they are bucking the system oftheir community.
Carlos, meanwhile, startsexperimenting with his sexuality, forming a threesome with the affluent gaycouple (Ross, Wood) who live upstairs and are Tomas' landlords. When he embarkson a secret affair with one of them and inadvertently drives a wedge betweenthe couple, Tomas is served with an eviction notice. The family has to find anew place to live, but Echo Park has become a yuppie paradise and prices areout of their reach.
The skill of the film-makersin Quinceanera is in telling such an appealing humanstory within the social and cultural context not only of the Mexican immigrantcommunity but also of the neighbourhood which is being overtaken by rich whitepeople as personified by the shallow, self-involved gay couple upstairs.
That the film works as bothcompelling drama and social comment is a tribute to the writing and the work ofdirectors and actors, many of them non-professional, in creating such authenticcharacterisations. It's telling that it won both jury and audience awards atSundance since it is both crowd-pleaser and critic-friendly.
Although not yet sold fordomestic distribution, the film is close to finding a home with both US andinternational companies. Even before it starts selling to distributors, itsfuture as a festival item, at both traditional and gay events, is guaranteed.
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