A Better Life: Discussion with Demian Bichir & Chris Weitz

KS: Was there any moment that you shot, but then removed from the film with deep regret? If yes, what was it?

CW: “Um. No. I will tell you two moments that we shot, but didn’t keep. One was a big hug at the end of the film, because I wanted to keep things balanced on a precipice…And another, that there just wasn’t space for- which actually happened to me when we were at the bull ring…I was going to the bathroom and I heard these spurs. I thought that some big cowboy was gonna walk in, so I was thinking ‘wow, this is really weird…’ and a kid, about five years old walked in. And we shot it, with [the son] Jose, instead…it just didn’t fit in the movie. In a way I regret not putting that in, now that all is said and done, because it was such an interesting encounter between the sort of Americanized kid and the child who retains his sense of belonging.”

Demian Bichir is almost too charming to be real, but, oh, he is. Director Chris Weitz is clearly smitten with him, and for good reason. During the making of the heart-wrenchingly gorgeous (and still relatively new) film “A Better Life,” the two climbed palm trees together- adventure became them, apparently. The connection they have is both sweet and extremely serious- built on something firm and unshakable, like trust.

Weitz, the prolific filmmaker behind “About A Boy,” “The Golden Compass,” “Antz,” and “American Pie,” is a creative force to be reckoned with and he chose to make a well-researched, meticulously plotted film about the rights of human beings who want, of all things, better lives on foreign soil. Sometimes Hollywood uses its power to remind us about where we come from and where we are going. Weitz, Bichir, and the gifted cast and crew responsible for bringing this story to the big screen unabashedly expose the following: immigration rights do not have an expiration date. Yes, the film is timely, and yes, there are big names attached to it, but human rights are forefront issues and must be taken seriously.

Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, who is recognized first and foremost as a father who works long days in the hot sun of Los Angeles to give his son, who was born in the United States, a better life. Galindo is Mexican- ”illegal.” He fears every day that what he builds up – connections, his business, any property he may purchase – will crumble to nothing if, of all things, he is found to actually exist where he lives and works. He is a father, a hard worker, and an honest man, but what he is as an individual adds up to nothing in the eyes of the law- this is the existence of immigrants who cannot obtain the proper papers in our country. He does work that could kill him, at low cost, to prettify the landscape of a city that he has no rights to, all for the benefit of his son. In the end, Galindo explains to his son why he exists, saying: “I had you for me, to give me a reason to live.”

From the angle of artistry, it must be said that Weitz tells the story using the most primary tools: the sun and motion. We get places in a car with Galindo- he takes us where the story is going, literally. We know when too much time has passed for Galindo’s goals to play out well, when he wakes up to sunlight, missing hours of valuable time in his search for stolen property. When Carlos Galindo’s life changes, it is because time passed and/or he was forced to move beyond reasonable limits- to “steal” what was stolen from him, to enter jail for “being” illegal, to leave his young son, to return; crossing borders visible and invisible.

Bichir plays a character that clearly knows his value and maintains a peaceful existence, no matter what trouble he comes into contact with. Galindo is not a man of words, as Bichir explained after the screening- he is a man of integrity, but does not explain himself verbally. Still, if he is the face on which we have to judge the “immigration movement,” I would think Bichir’s portrayal of Galindo would change minds by first changing hearts. For all those who choose to exist in a land when they cannot actually be recognized, we must consider what price they paid to make the choice to come.

Bichir’s portrayal of Galindo exposes the dailyness of that choice that some people make – to be here is not to be, but to be where they came from could be a less promising version of “non-being.” As Weitz says, “this is first and foremost the story of a father and his son.” Let us consider those the law dubs “aliens” as fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, and friends. We must look at their stories as valuable, because we can decide such things as who deserves a chance, and we must. Pay attention to this film, and along with it, the various other stories that have been produced over the past decade on the topic of immigration rights in the United States.

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