Movie Review By : Bryan Fox /RealTVfilms.com Blogger
Welcome to Boston. Welcome to Amèrica’s life. See a penchant for shoplifting but an inability to hide it effectively. See a caretaker aunt who speaks to her softly in English and reproaches her angrily in Spanish. See an uncle who drinks and swings for the fences. See a young protagonist who tunes out the world with hip hop blasted through Discman headphones, who smokes clandestine cigarettes of defiance through pursed lips at every opportunity, and who seems allergic to smiles, until you realize perhaps it’s just because she has no use for them.
This film starts slowly – the dialogue between America and her friends is so believable it is somewhat dry (the common film critique that teen dialogue is not ‘realistic’ overlooks the fact that most of what is passed off as discourse between ‘real’ sixteen-year olds is painfully insipid, and not worthy of screen time). But after a fast and brutal turn of events, an abrupt jump-cut finds Amèrica on a plane to Buenos Aires, where she is sent to be placed in the care of her maternal grandmother.
Welcome, now, to ‘the other’ America, where the protagonist learns a few things, quickly. The South American lower middle class is not nearly as cushy as its North American counterpart. Grandma Lucia can’t speak English, doesn’t want to, and won’t let her nieta, either. And no more cigarettes or junk food. Lucia’s (aptly-played by veteran Argentine actress Ana Maria Colombo) open distaste for America, the country, and America, the granddaughter, is evident. So is her scorn of the northward migratory flights of her two daughters, which have ended so poorly they’ve put her in this predicament, as the sole possible caregiver for a 15-year old from el norte that she’s never even met. There is a concrete tension between the humble septuagenarian and her standoffish new responsibility, and it isn’t just because they are incompatible linguistically.
“Speak English!” the girl implores her at one point. “I am American!”
“American? Well, I’m American, too,” replies Lucia, venting an oft-voiced South American lament at our brazen colonialism of the word.
The film does a fantastic job of displaying the disorientation of a young girl thrust into a country where her grasp of the language is tenuous, at best. The radio news plays on without subtitles. “So many of our country’s problems are because of your government,” Lucia admonishes America over breakfast, commenting on a story of civil unrest, and the girl is both too young and too linguistically restrained to reply. Amèrica’s exchanges are terse and truncated. The headphones come out again and again.
Kindness is shown by neighbor Sergio (Nicolas Meradi), a recently estranged thirtysomething handyman who helps Lucia out with things and offers America a warm, inviting smile to counteract the tough love of her grandmother. The girl’s guard is up so high it seems an impenetrable wall, but he works diligently to bring it down. When Amèrica finally smiles, some 45 minutes into the film, the release is almost palpable. Sergio and America’s relationship takes an odd and dangerous turn one day at lunch, and the two come close to entering into a very awkward February-December tryst that wouldn’t even be acceptable in French cinema, but the elder man thinks the better of it.
This is a very real film, almost too real. The discomfort experienced by Amèrica and her grandmother is genuine, and at times, the film is painful to watch, though this is in no way meant to its detriment. The characters grow on you as they grow on each other, as we see the unease of two women grudgingly attempting to make the best of an awkward situation neither of them ever wanted. It is a silent film – the soundtrack is sparse and hollow, serving only to add to the disquietude. Refreshingly, the director makes no attempt to tell us what to feel, and there are moments of unadulterated tension where we become voyeurs eavesdropping in on some achingly intimate family moments (in particular, a bitter kitchen row between Amèrica and her grandmother which ends in shattered dishware and a divide Lucia’s outstretched arm cannot bridge comes to mind).
Director Cristina Cornejo (for whom some of this film is autobiographical), has set herself a big challenge – she’s given the viewer a young lead who is so truculent and guarded that even the other characters in the film have difficulty liking her, and then tries to find a way to work the girl and her plight into our hearts. “3 Americas” struggles with this, though its unflinching sincerity is a great strong point, as any 15-year old in Amèrica’s predicament would probably react just as negatively as she does, if not worse.
The film ends, as it begins, in media res, leaving us forced, like Amèrica, to accept the harsh reality that life goes on, whether you accept the hand you’ve been dealt or not.