Every once in a while a short film comes along that is so promising and entertaining that it cries out to be made into a full-length feature. A Day Without A Mexican is not one of those short films. Inspired by the anti-illegal-alien politics of California Governor Pete Wilson, it’s a satirical mockumentary about what California would be like if one day all the Hispanics suddenly disappeared. It’s an overbearingly political piece of cinematic hyperbole (that’s your CB vocabulary word of the week kids, look it up!) and was meant to be more controversial than entertaining. Fair enough. There’s room for that kind of movie making in the world. But taking that short film and trying to stretch it into a full-length feature? Siesta time! Somewhere in California, a faucet drips. The Hispanic owner of the leaky faucet (Elpidia Carrillo) calls up her non-Hispanic landlord and ever so politely asks him to repair it at his earliest convenience. Being a good, water conserving Californian she leaves a glass under the dripping flow before heading off to work. Incidentally, she’s the invaluable nanny for the fictional family of California Senator Steven Abercombie III (John Getz). Over the course of the day the water from the leaking faucet slowly fills the glass. When the water finally begins to overflow mysterious things begin to happen. A pink haze settles around the state of California, cutting it off from the rest of the world, and one by one, everyone with a Hispanic background disappears.
Panic ensues. Without its Hispanic population, California’s state economy begins to crumble. Schools close. Crops rot in the field. Border Patrol agents sit idly by with nothing to do. Politicians and scientists scramble madly to find an explanation for the disappearances. Some theorize that the end of world is coming, and God has taken all the Mexicans first. Others speculate that Hispanics were all actually aliens (after all, that is what the US government calls them). They have all simply gone home in their sombrero shaped UFO. Some people, in their supremacist bigotry, ignore that their world is crashing down around them and celebrate the mass Mexican-exodus. Others begin to realize how badly they have taken their Hispanic brothers and sisters for granted and call out for them to return. While mildly interesting at first, a half hour of this had me wishing the landlord would show up to fix the stupid faucet and put the movie out of my misery.
The apparent key to solving the crisis is Lila Rodriguez (Yareli Arizmendi), the only Hispanic who doesn’t disappear with the rest. Lila agrees to turn herself over to military scientists who conduct a barrage of obscure tests to determine her “L-factor”, what makes her a Latina. They hope discovering this may somehow reveal what happened to all the others Hispanics. Only Lila’s frenetic Aunt Gigi (Caroline Aaron) knows the real reason why she hasn’t disappeared. Gigi refuses to reveal the reason, terrified of what it might do to her niece. Meanwhile, California continues to dissolves without its Mexicans.
Weaving a plot into the politically charged short film proved too tough a task for director and writer Sergio Arua. The end result is a bombardment of mini-stories that wanders aimlessly for a hundred grueling minutes and finally dies an unmercifully sappy death. None of the above is helped by the pitiful directing and acting offered in the film. To further worsen matters, the filmmakers occasionally freeze time during the show to drop statistics about the Hispanic population in California, bashing you redundantly over the head with their socio-political complaints. By the time the end credits rolled I felt sad for the Californian Hispanic population only because the movie failed so miserably at representing their plight. No matter what side of the issues you are on, everyone can agree that this is just bad filmmaking.
A Day Without A Mexican appears to have two points, the less apparent one being that faucet repair work in California is in desperate need of legislation. The larger message is blindingly obvious, yet the film still fails miserably as its messenger. It absolutely tanked in the United States, limping from venue to venue for over five months in the larger cities before finally withering away after a one week stint in southern New Mexico. It was, however, a raging success south of the border. The official web site boasts the movie to be “the second highest box office in the history of Mexican Cinema in Mexico”. When you get done sorting out just exactly what that means, let your mind move on to other things. A Day Without A Mexican is just not worth any further consideration. The DVD keeps the theme of the movie well. The very first screen to greet you is your choice of either Spanish or English menus. Maybe the producers are just painfully aware of where their market truly lies. Either way, from that point on the disc is pretty standard fare.
You’d think that with a predominantly Mexican market, the filmmakers would have dubbed in a Spanish audio track. As well, given the heavy political tone, one might suspect that the directors and writers would have jumped at the chance to create a commentary track. Neither is to be found. It’s a little disappointing too, since just about anything would be more interesting than listening the film’s boring and predictable dialogue. The only consolation for Spanish speakers is Spanish subtitles. Hard of hearing English speakers aren’t so fortunate – no English subtitles to be found.
What is included on the disc is the short film that started it all. The 30 minute short is more a mock news broadcast than an actual story. Far more polarized and politically biting than its full length big brother, its message isn’t muddled by inane plots, bad acting and trite character relationships. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still bad filmmaking, but at least it only wastes a half hour of your life and sticks to its point. You have to appreciate that, no matter how you feel about the politics.
The folks behind A Day Without A Mexican let their feelings out in the making of featurette. They spend more time talking about the content than the actual production process, yet it’s still more interesting to watch than the movie itself. Even the camera quality and editing seem to be of a higher caliber. Non-Spanish speakers will miss quite a bit of what’s being said. Much of the commentary is in Spanish, but, like the film, no English subtitles exist. Those who do understand the Spanish may get a completely different feel from the featurette as the tone becomes a little harsher when then the movie makers take up their more native tongue.
The handfuls of remaining extras are hardly worth mentioning. The deleted scenes, mistakenly labeled on the English menus as Outtakes, are no worse than the rest of the film. Without any commentary to explain why they were removed, watching them is nothing more than a painful reminder of the badness of the movie. There’s a music video and some trailers to round things out. All in all it’s a rather run of the mill package, hardly worth renting, much less buying.
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