Bread and Roses (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner01/05/2001

Four stars out of five
Running time: 110 mins

Ken Loach’s latest film is a highly watchable tale of love, illegal immigrants and union politics at the ‘invisible’ end of the service industry, with superb central performances by Padilla and Carrillo.

British director Ken Loach has been making his brand of realistic, unashamedly leftist political movies ever since he made the ground-breaking Cathy Come Home in 1960. His new film, Bread and Roses, however, marks the first time he has made a film in America (albeit with European backing). Fortunately, though the location may be different, Loach’s concerns remain the same as they always have, and the result is his best film since Land and Freedom.

The story concerns two sisters: the younger Maya (Mexican actress Pilar Padilla) and the older Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo). As the film opens, Maya is being smuggled across the Mexican border into America – the scene is intense and the camera can barely keep up with her as she’s bundled into a waiting jeep.

Once in Los Angeles, she swiftly runs into trouble – her sister can’t pay the ‘transportation fee’ and she’s abducted by her two ‘smugglers’. However, we quickly learn that Maya is sharp-witted and can take care of herself, as she outwits her would-be rapist in one of the film’s best scenes.

Soon afterwards, Maya gets a job working for the same cleaning company as her sister, cleaning the office blocks of Hollywood’s rich and powerful. There she meets Sam (Adrien Brody, last seen doing a hilarious ‘British Punk’ routine in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam) – an idealistic union organizer, not above staging publicity-grabbing stunts in order to get his message across.

Soon Maya finds herself both falling for Sam and getting involved in his ‘Justice for Janitors’ campaign – since their cleaning company is non-union and employs illegal immigrants, the workers are appallingly exploited, having to accept low wages and being denied valuable health care packages, as well as living in fear of instant deportation if they step out of line.

To highlight this, Loach embodies the worst excesses of this system in the character of Perez (Maya and Rosa’s boss), a delightfully nasty performance by George Lopez, who coerces sexual favours from his employees and, in one chilling scene, callously fires an older lady in front of everyone for being "two minutes late".

The acting throughout is superb. Pilar Padilla gives a likeable, spirited performance as Maya – she’s particularly impressive when pleading for her friend (whose scholarship is at stake if he loses his job), with her face showing both anger and a hint of guilt because she knows she’s to blame. Her performance is matched by that of Elpidia Carrillo, especially in a blistering scene in which she angrily reveals to Maya just how she kept the family in money for the past decade. Brody is good, too, though his character seems less well-defined - his impassioned final speech at the demonstration is a highlight.

The film looks good, too, courtesy of Loach’s regular cameraman Barry Ackroyd, who captures the rarely-seen side of L.A. and uses unusual spaces such as office-block courtyards to good effect (the poster image is particularly striking).

The film is also not without humour – there are several smile-inducing scenes in what may be Loach’s most upbeat film to date. The film isn’t without flaws, either – a high-profile agency party (including some well-known actors in brief cameos) held in the agency’s drab office rings false, and some of the speeches veer dangerously close to sermonizing - a common criticism of Loach’s work.

In general, though, the film is an intelligent, well-acted drama with something to say and Loach should be applauded for tackling a subject no-one else would think twice about. Recommended.

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Content updated: 20/10/2017 08:09

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