Wednesday, August 25, 2010

La Mission (Rhoades)

“La Mission” Is Close to Home for Benjamin Bratt
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

On my last trip to San Francisco I saw a Chicano gang drive by in their low-rider cars, obviously objects of beauty and status. One was engineered to lurch up-and-down on its hydraulic springs like a mating bullfrog.
Yuppie me, I prefer a high-riding SUV, a vehicle that can clear any street debris.

Cultural differences.

You can get a glimpse into the Chicano world of California in “La Mission,” the indie film that’s now playing at the Tropic Cinema. In it, Benjamin Bratt (“Miss Congeniality,” “Love in the Time of Cholera”) stars as Che, a Hispanic ex-con who is both respected and feared by his peers.

Che and his Mission Boyz take pride in restoring junk cars, turning them into low-rider masterpieces. He’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow. After all, he has to watch out for his son Jesse (played by Jeremy Ray Valdez). But things go astray when he discovers a secret about his son, challenging the machismo code by which he’s lived.

I won’t reveal the film’s surprises, but it will play well in Key West. As Bratt puts it, “Here is a man through decades of a certain kind of behavior, he is a man of violence. He faced with a situation that he can’t punch his way out of ... He is forced to consider an alternative if he wants to keep his son in his life. That is potentially a road of non-violence, that’s the only thing that is going to lead to a path of redemption.”

The actor sums it up like this: “It is, in fact, a coming-of-age story, but not of the son, but the father.”

Written and directed by Peter Bratt (Benjamin’s brother), “La Mission” is a fairly conventional film well told.

Peter made his mark as a filmmaker with 1996’s “Follow Me Home,” a drama that explored the multicultural world of Chicanos, African Americans, and Native Americans. He was honored with a 2000 Rockefeller Foundation Film/Video/Multimedia Fellowship.

Benjamin and his brother are actually of Peruvian heritage, although they grew up in San Francisco. “It takes some kind of fortitude for someone like my mom to single-handedly raise five children, get them through college, and keep them out of jail,” he says, alluding to a path that could have been similar to his character Che’s.

“La Mission” refers to the Mission District neighborhood of San Francisco that reflects Benjamin and Peter’s home turf. Benjamin says the film honors the “neighborhood itself.” He explains, “We wanted to not only put the neighborhood, but the people in the neighborhood, in the foreground and focus the story on them. So really this is my brother and I’s effort to create a cinematic love letter to a neighborhood that is still near and dear to us, and we consider ourselves very much a part of.”

Benjamin Bratt has long been a champion of Chicanos and Native Americans. “One of the sayings that my character uses in the film is to ‘stay brown.’ He says it to everyone, even those who aren’t brown, which is what the real-life Che said to people. It means remember who you are and where you come from. And that’s my approach to life, personally, I never forget where I come from, and I am blessed everyday.”
[from Solares Hill]

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