Honestly, I only took on an interest in The City (La Ciudad) on a whim when I saw that it had gotten plenty of good reviews, had been critically acclaimed by people such as Roger Ebert, but certainly low-budget. I had recently become a big fan of vignette style films and was willing to take a look at anything. But my hopes were somewhat strange when I saw it had been made in 1998 wondering if it might be a bit timely if not outdated. As it turns out, the film is just as relevant today as it was in between the years 1992 and 1997 when principal photography took place. There is just nothing to say that can justify this beautiful piece of art told through the black and white filter that takes over four people's dismal but emotionally charged lives.
THE CITY follows five principal characters: Jose, a young but hard working man who wishes he was home with his wife and son through the letters they always send him; Francisco, a young man who stumbles into a quinceñera just after arriving from Mexico but meets Maria, a girl at the party who has felt trapped ever since her own arrival five years previous; Luis, a single father and street puppeteer who wants the best for his daughter despite living out of his car with her; and Ana, a young seamstress worker who must find a way to send $400 home to her daughter who desperately needs medical attention. The four will soon discover through their stress-filled and taxxing days that life in the city may make them or break them...but their lifelong problems will never end.
Usually a film will leave you with some sort of redemption even with a sad ending. THE CITY, however, displays the harsh truths for these poor immigrants and the emotional odysseys they must endure every day. You long for Jose, Francisco, Maria, Luis, and Ana, our loving protagonists, to find their hope. Some of them nearly do but it falls out of their grasp. The message is ultimately, their problems will never end and the ending to their stories is almost irrelevant in that it's just one part of their entire lives. It's a big fat slap in the face to an audience who is not used to this but for a lot of people it's a reality.
The amazing cast, which was made up of mostly first-timers including actual immigrants, completely blew me away. The five leads told so much with their eyes and facial expressions that you can sense desperation and blank feelings of not having a sense of comfort. Personally, it became connecting with the actual person instead of the characters they were playing due to the fact they were almost playing themselves. The long absences of words filled with atmospheric music will send a chill up your spine. Fernando Reyes as Jose brought out hopelessness but a light of hope. He's the one who spends the least amount of time in front of the camera but when you do see him, dread and sorrow immediately follow through reading the letters his wife sends him.
Silvia Goiz as Ana was my other particular favorite. Goiz was absolutely mind-blowing. Her desperation for her character trying to get enough money for her daughter's operation were incredible. The emotion she invoked on the screen was also impeccable. Her face fills the screen with hope much more than the others as her womanly stubborness dominates the screen. Her difference from Jose, Francisco, Maria and Luis is that we know, as the audience, she's the one who won't give up. Cipriano Garcia as Francisco also portrayed a feeling of innocence in coming straight from Mexico to New York and getting lost but finding a sense of comfort in a girl from the same town. The dread that envelopes his face in a twist-of-fate ending is a mistake that runs the story full circle in a simple way.
David Riker, who toiled years to put the full-length film together in starting it as a student film, has made a film that should not and will not be forgotten. It is a film that once you see it, it will stick with you. I saw it four months ago and it's all I've been able to think about for the longest time. It is not a waste of time and much different than anything you will ever see or have seen before. Give it a chance. It's not just an art film, it's much more than that. It's our world and a sign of our times. You might get something out of it and I personally never say that about any film. You may even relate.