El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Monday, January 05, 2004


By John Sayles
Starring Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Rita Moreno, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Susan Lynch

You know those books that offer cross-sectional views of everyday items, such as how escalators work and what keys do inside of locks. John Sayles’ films accomplish the same thing. As they unfold, we see how the characters, both major and minor, are components of the society portrayed and the story being told. The settings are very integral, and since each story is different, so to are the time and place in which they are set. Some locations from his recent films are: Florida, Alaska, Texas, Ireland and New Orleans.

His current offering is Casa De Los Babys which takes place in an unnamed Latin American country. Its main characters are a group of women from the United States who have come to adopt babies. The women are middle-aged and young, married and single, thrown together by similar desires but still distant due to their personalities. We learn why some of the women are adopting while with others we can only guess at their motivations from the clues provided. Although I'm a male who has no desire to have children, John's writing and the actress' performances helped me understand some of the reasoning and wanting that the women had.

The country mandates that prospective parents must complete a residency period before being given the baby. It's never explained why. The law might be in place under the pretense that it gives the mothers-to-be time to learn about their child's culture, but it just seems like an excuse to get them to spend even more money in the country. The extended layover gives us the opportunity to meet other characters who are part of the larger story of third word adoption: young street orphans not lucky enough to be taken away from their poverty and daily struggle to survive, a maid at the hotel who dreams about the child she gave away to an American couple, a young teen whose mother is making her give up her baby. And even the hotel owner's son who, while being a terrible as a hotel handyman, dreams of being a revolutionary and fixing his country's problems so gringas stop coming there and stealing the children. These minor characters would never appear in most American films except as set dressing, but John gives them screen time so we can see the many facets that make up this story.

John is an economical writer, so not only do you need to pay attention to the characters’ dialogue and actions but also to others’ reactions to that character. This gives you a better sense of who they are. His characters are usually well-drawn, three-dimensional people; each one having enough depth and back story that they could be the main focus of their own separate story.

His direction is focused on the story and letting the characters tell it. The cameras are just there to document the story. The multi-character sequences are shot with two cameras to provide coverage, giving the actresses the freedom to flow. It's fun watching them cut loose. The film is blessed with many, very good performances and anyone that hands out awards for performance by an ensemble should really give this film and the actors in it the recognition it deserves.

Casa De Los Babys is a small, quiet movie made up of mostly strong, seemingly independent women. John creates questions from the story and about the real world but only answers a few, leaving some of the work for the viewer as the lights come up. If you wouldn't read a short story collection about women this might not be for you, but I highly recommend it for those of you who would want to try something different and like thinking after a movie is over.

I do request that you please don't wait for it to come out on DVD or cable. John has to assist in the funding of his own movies, so please help him out by going to see it in the theatre. Otherwise don't complain about only having sequels and teen movies to watch. You would think Dreamworks, supposedly a home for artists, would help subsidize a talented guy like this instead of wasting their time and money with Woody Allen's crap. Did you notice there's make no mention of Woody Allen in a large majority of the ads for Anything Else?

What I enjoy about John Sayles' films is that he seems to be bored by the current state of American cinema just as much as I am. He writes the stories that interest him since the marketplace doesn't offer them. It's refreshing because his films introduce us to people and take us to places we don't normally experience at the movies. Support this talented artist by seeing this film and renting his others.