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Bread and Roses

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Bread and Roses

Starring: Adrien Brody, Pilar Padilla
Director: Ken Loach
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: June 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Benicio Del Toro, Jack McGee, Elpidia Carrillo, George Lopez, Alonso Chavez

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

BREAD AND ROSES, by director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty, who collaborated last on MY NAME IS JOE, tells a fictional story with a documentary feel about organizing L. A. janitors. Two of the story's three leads are sisters who work as non-union janitors in a typical skyscraper. One sister, Maya (Pilar Padilla), is idealistically and bravely pro-union, whereas the other, Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo), is pragmatically and just as bravely anti-union. Both are completely believable and deliver strong performances, but Carrillo steals the movie in a long dramatic scene towards the end.

We see the workers verbally abused and threatened as they attempt to organize. Although the bosses draw most of the writer's fire for underpaying the janitors, the leaders of the union are criticized in one scene in which the union organizer complains that the money they raise will be thrown away like the $40,000,000 that the unions gave last year to the Democrats.

Although it is a powerful film at times, Loach makes two strategic mistakes that significantly and needlessly detract from its message. The first is the casting of Adrien Brody as Sam, the paid union organizer. Brody, a Tom Green look-alike who darts around like Harpo Marx, gives the movie a comedic side that is jarringly out of place with the rest of the drama.

The second mistake concerns the subtitles. Since the characters would naturally speak a mixture of English and Spanish, Loach keeps switching the language that is being subtitled. In theory this may sound sensible, but in practice it is a disaster. If you try to read the subtitles and they turn out to be in a language you don't understand, then, by the time you stop reading and start listening, you've missed the first few words of the sentence and are frequently unable to parse what is being said. The reverse is true if you're listening carefully, only to realize that you should have been reading. Since these switches may occur several times per minute, it is hard to keep track of the dialog. If Loach felt that dual language subtitling were necessary, there are two ways that would have solved the problem. Either have both languages subtitled all of the time -- Films shown in multilingual countries like Switzerland do this -- or use different colors with, say, white for English and yellow for Spanish.

"I believe in nothing but this," says Rosa, holding up her hand to her sister. BREAD AND ROSES makes some powerful points for the union while reminding us of everyone's believe in self-reliance. Were it not for the miscasting of the comical Adrien Brody in a serious part and for the distracting and constant switching of subtitles, I would have been able to recommend BREAD AND ROSES.

BREAD AND ROSES runs 1:50. It is rated R for strong language and brief nudity and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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