Bread And Roses

on May 11, 2001 by Lael Loewenstein
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British director Ken Loach has visited the social problem film before--whether his films concerned an alcoholic ("My Name is Joe"), those damaged by war in Central America ("Carla's Song") or the Spanish Civil War ("Land and Freedom"). This time he brings his familiar themes to new territory, shooting for the first time in the U.S. "Bread and Roses" is a powerful, occasionally didactic but deeply resonant film dealing with the plight of migrant laborers. In fact, Angeleno viewers will find the film eerily familiar, as it concerns a janitors' strike remarkably like the one that played out in nightly L.A. newscasts this spring.

Loach has a way of treating events with bracing honesty, shooting in an unfussy style that rewards the viewer with its intimacy. As the story of Mexican immigrant Maya (Pilar Padilla) unspools, her tale is compellingly personal yet arguably universal. Moving in with her sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo), Maya finds work as a janitor for a boorish boss (George Lopez) and meets a feisty union organizer, Sam (Adrien Brody). When Sam convinces Maya that the janitors should stand up for their rights, she helps motivate her fellow workers to unionize, though the price is steep: They risk temination and, in some cases, deportation, and they are reluctant to jeopardize their hard-won jobs.

To their significant credit, Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty ("Carla's Song," "My Name is Joe") have fashioned a story that is consistently engrossing, surprising and believable. (Look for a scene where the janitors crash a fancy party, with Tim Roth and Ron Pearlman in cameos.) "Bread and Roses" is infused with realism, both through Loach's effectively improvisational techniques and the textured portraits by the cast. Thankfully never deified, they instead embody very human, flawed and complex people whose personal goals are often at odds with the social good. Padilla, a Mexican theatre actress, is a standout in her first screen role, and Carrillo is heart wrenching as her sister. Starring Adrien Brody, Pilar Padilla and Elpidia Carrillo. Directed by Ken Loach. Written by Paul Laverty. Produced by Rebecca O'Brien. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min.

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