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Foreign Comedy - Quinceanera


Jesus Castanos, Emily Rios, Jesse Garcia, Chalo Gonzalez
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Walsh Westmoreland
English and Spanish with subtitles
Sony Pictures Classics 2006
91 minutes

I am not usually impressed with the awards a movie got. Quinceanera won the 2006 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and its Audience Award. Perhaps the people at Sundance know a bit more about Hispanic-American movies and lives than I do because though Quinceanera is obviously an extremely well-made independent movie and a labor of love, I could not really get into it.

Though Quinceanera focuses on the story of Magdalena, a fourteen year-old Hispanic girl who, on the even of her fifteenth birthday (her quinceanera, a big deal) finds out she is pregnant and still a virgin. This displeases her papa so she moves in with her uncle, Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), and her cousin Carlos, a gay reformed gang-banger, until she can either figure things out or things quiet down at home.

The real star of this movie is Chalo Gonzalez as Uncle Tomas. He has the most interesting character. In a movie where many of the cast members are not professional actors, Gonzalez could have really chewed up scenery but instead chose to play Tomas with the kind of quiet but strong presence the character is imbued with.

Quinceanera is a slow-moving film that is very interested in characters and the daily events in the lives of a small group of people. The gentrification of their neighborhood is really affecting their lives. Neither Magdalena, Carlos, or Uncle Tomas have it easy but they cope. This is a movie about ordinary people living ordinary lives. There is not much to that, really, but this version of it is beautiful.

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