Already a hit in its native Colombia, Paraiso Travel tackles the issues about immigration that America, with all its conflicted ideas about immigrant labor, can't bear to address itself. A saga about two lovers making the perilous journey to New York City, and the even greater dangers they face one they arrive, the movie is bleak and unflinching while leaving room for hope for its beleaguered migrants. It doesn't hurt that the cast mostly consists of gorgeous people, but to director Simon Brand's credit, he isn't afraid to let them be ugly either.

The movie begins when Marlon (Aldemar Correa) and Reina (Angelica Blandon) arrive in New York, squeezing into a dingy hostel after a grueling journey that we will only learn the true details of later. A brief misunderstanding between Marlon and some cops outside sends him on the run, and soon he's lost and alone in Queens, unable to remember even the name of the hostel where he has left Reina. He seeks refuge at a Colombian restaurant, and though he appears to be a bum, the kindly wife of the owner takes him in from the cold. Determined to find his lost love but stranded with no money or contacts, Marlon accepts a menial job at the restaurant and slum-like housing worked out for him by a Colombian priest in the neighborhood. He also begins a shy flirtation with Raquel (Margarita Rose de Francisco), a singer who sells CDs at a stand outside the restaurant.

Though Marlon is successfully putting down roots in New York, it's not an easy process for anyone. His most permanent housing situation, with a sleazy S&M photographer (John Leguizamo), is illegal and constantly subject to a police crackdown. And even though Raquel is relatively successful as a singer, she lives in a cramped house with her entire extended family-- not exactly the American dream.

Marlon's life in Queens is peppered with flashbacks to his and Reina's journey, from turning their backs on their families to escape to being extorted, beaten and even raped on the road by unscrupulous gangs ready to take advantage of desperate immigrants. The scenes are harrowing, especially because we come to love Marlon, Reina and their companions on the road, particularly a spirited woman who eventually winds up as a stripper in Queens-- her life dream, as it turns out. The scenes make it clear how much is sacrificed to come to America, and Marlon's story in Queens makes both him and the audience question whether the sacrifice is worth it.

By the end of Paraiso Travel Marlon is searching less for Reina than for security and a home in a foreign country. When he finally does find Reina it is the most heartbreaking scene of the film, and would probably seem unbelievable had everything that came before it not been so frank. Paraiso Travel certainly pulls its emotional gut punches, but its occasional manipulation is paired with simple honesty, which never allows Brand to settle a happy ending for any of his characters. The movie answers no questions about what America should do about the growing immigrant population, but it puts a human face on a few of them. Well, it's a start.

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