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Bread and Roses (Ken Loach) 2001

Ken Loach's Bread and Roses is a documentary-style film that shows the plight of a mostly Hispanic cleaning staff in Los Angeles as they try to organize a worker's union. Loach has a great career filled with this sort of film, but this one seems flaccid. It's main character, Maya, is an illegal immigrant who moves to the country to live with her sister. The opening scenes show how she is smuggled across the border, and gets her job with the cleaning company. They are somewhat effective, but we see nothing that's very shocking or enlightening.

She meets a union organizer (Adrian Brody) who inspires her to rally her coworkers to fight for better wages & health benefits. The film's drama comes from the turmoil between the workers... several of them including Maya's sister Rosa, think they have little power, and resent the desire for a union. The subject matter is worth exploring, but the characters have poor logic and motivations, and the film doesn't seem particularly realistic. The film's documentary-style only makes the instances of slapstick comedy and the unnecessary romantic subplot stick out as bits of movie-ness. Perhaps an actual documentary on this subject matter would be more compelling.

One scene late in the film in which Rosa tells Maya she worked as a prostitute to get to America and to get Maya her job is by far the best in the film. The acting in this scene is absolutely heartbreaking, and for the 1st time in its running length, the film achieves some genuine drama. If the rest of this film was at this level, I'd be able to recommend it, but, as is, I wouldn't. The film is haphazardly made, and doesn't really succeed in illustrating the workers' plights in a way that is ultimately sympathetic.

**

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman