The once-lively Mexican film industry stagnated after it was nationalized in the late 1950s, but revived in 1990s with the loosening of the government's velvet stranglehold on the arts. Last year, three art house films by Mexican directors, "Babel," "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Children of Men," garnered a total of 16 Oscar nominations.
Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans in the United States continues to soar, eliciting the interest of movie moguls hoping somehow to woo the enormous, but opaque, illegal immigrant market away from the Univision television network. (Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was a huge hit among undocumented filmgoers, but Hollywood would rather not remember that missed opportunity.)
Expecting synergy, the Weinstein Company and Fox Searchlight paid $5 million at the 2007 Sundance film festival for "Under the Same Moon," a sentimental family film about an illegal immigrant mother in East LA and the little boy she left behind in Sonora. It was made by Patricia Riggen, daughter of a Guadalajara surgeon. (Part of its $2 million budget was provided by the Mexican government.)
Theorizing that "Under the Same Moon" could be, in the words of the old Saturday Night Live parody ad, both a floor wax and a dessert topping, the studios released it simultaneously in both downscale theaters in Latino neighborhoods and in upscale cinemas for Anglos who like socially conscious foreign films with subtitles.
Through inept planning, I managed to check out both prongs of its novel marketing strategy. By the time I arrived at The Plant in heavily Latino Van Nuys (the curious title of this power mall built on the site of an old Chevy factory commemorates the days when cars and planes, not just movies, were manufactured in the San Fernando Valley), the 9:40 pm Saturday night show had sold out.
So, I drove south to the cinephiles' latest venue, the Arclight on tony Ventura Blvd. for the 10:30 show, which turned out to be almost empty. Apparently, if the residents of the Hollywood Hills were really all that interested in hearing about the lives of illegal aliens, they wouldn't pay $12.75 to see "Under the Same Moon" at the Arclight, they'd just strike up a conversation with their servants. Judging from the film's maid's-eye view of Los Angeles's Anglo elite as stuck-up and cold-blooded, however, they aren't.
Not surprisingly, "Under the Same Moon" works better as a floor wax than as a dessert topping.