Projections - Movie Reviews

Bread and Roses

Bread and Roses

Ken Loach has gained strong admiration for his films with a powerful sense of social relevance and the need to punch the necessary political buttons to promote change.  The multi-talented British film maker brings his documentary-like aplomb a long way to Los Angeles to cogently examine a janitorial union organizing campaign in a high-rise office building in Bread and Roses.

By taking us into the lives of mostly Latino laborers struggling to make ends meet, Loach's new film is a courageous expose that is far from Hollywood, though not in distance, in its portrayal of workers like his beleaguered hero, Pilar Padilla's Maya, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

Loach has a visceral energy in Maya's difficult sojourn into LA as she moves into the home of sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) and her family and gets a job working with Rosa as a janitor in a cleaning crew.  The director adeptly responds here from the sub-text that incited LA's Century City back in 1990 when riot police injured and arrested janitorial union members on a non-threatening march.

With Rosa and Maya in a low-wage non-union shop, Maya is coerced to give her first month's wages to the boss, Perez (George Lopez), in order to keep their jobs.  Workers don't have paid vacations or health insurance, and often are terminated for no apparent reason.  Rosa won't support the union when a charismatic, feisty organizer, Adrien Brody's Sam, becomes an unlikely voice for swift action for the janitors' plight.

As Loach works strongly with his scenarist Paul Laverty in this un-expected moving tale of how irony comes from injustice, the fears of workers add up to tension between the sisters which is unnerving and powerful.  While Maya is receptive to the janitors' exploitation, Rosa feels that Sam doesn't know what immigrants are facing if they organize.  Barry Ackroyd's lensing doesn't accentuate the gradual preachy philosophy of Bread and Roses as it gives a mostly unnoticed Latin immigrant community a simplistic, riveting allure not usually seen on the screen.

We feel the union movement as Padilla doesn't exude the dynamism of the best spokesperson of a union and Bread and Roses as isn't about creating heroes or grandstanding.  But Padilla and the veteran Mexican actress Carrillo as the justly cynical older more experienced sibling are stand outs as their emotions take Bread and Roses into complex territory which demonstrates Loach's commitment into incisive social realities.

As the social setting oddly cohabitates with the movie world in the same looming edifices by day with the big business transactions becoming non-union sweat shops at night, the quiet, but intrepid demeanor of Maya is enlightening with Loach imparting a social lesson to those who don't realize what so many ordinary people do to compromise their lives for themselves and their families.

Loach populates his small, yet subtly poignant film with newcomers like Padilla and veterans like Carrillo and Benicio Del Toro and Tim Roth in cameos along with professional and amateur actors as part of the janitorial union organizers and office custodial staff.  It all is passionately subdued with real-like feeling throughout as Bread and Roses not only makes a strong impression on the Service Employees International Union with its energetic spirit, even endowed by an offbeat, ambiguous Brody and escalated from Lopez's manipulative employer, but on any witness to the unfairly disenfranchised.

Bread and Roses

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