A Place To Be ***
Starring: Andrew L. Saenz, Nelson A. Rodriguez, Jessie Prez, Ian R. Tranberg
Director: Tadeo Garcia
Immigration is a hot topic worldwide. With Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and Trump’s isolationist policies, it feels like the world has become considerably more xenophobic in the last few years. Reflecting this, indie film A Place To Be is a film about a multi-national couple who fall foul of the US immigration system, finding themselves in an impossible situation.
Diego (Rodriguez) is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He has been living under the radar of the government for his whole life and while his guilty secret causes him plenty of anguish, there is little he can do about it. When he meets Abel (Saenz) by chance, they fall head over heels in love with each other. Slotting into each other’s lives perfectly, they seem to be the perfect couple, but when Diego immigration status inevitably catches up with him, they have to make some life-changing decisions in order to stay together.
The chemistry between the two main characters is palpable. They do come across as drastically in love with each other, which, thanks to the normalcy of its leads, makes their story seem incredibly real. They are a pair of gentlemen, wholly in love and willing to travel to the ends of the earth for each other; or to Mexico, at least. The script does them favours certainly, because the dialogue paints some vivid and endearing characters, which certainly anchors this film with enough empathy to drag us through.
The word “drag” is apt, however. This is a long film. While it doesn’t hit the two hour mark, it drags its feet through every plot-point and every scene, labouring through sequences that could easily (and should easily) have been punchy enough to match the quirkiness of its characters. And while we do fall in love with these characters, it is a good fifty minutes before Diego’s immigration status has any real bearing on the plot whatsoever, by which point, it feels like a completely different movie.
The film’s final act is, by far, its strongest. When the proverbial shit has finally hit the fan (FINALLY), only then are we given something substantial to sink our teeth into. The couple’s devotion for each other is stretched to the absolute limits, especially with Abel refusing to leave Diego’s side, even through an ordeal that he simply wouldn’t have to endure due to his US citizenship. Make no mistake, the fluffiness of the early romantic scenes do not detract from how harrowing the narrative becomes later. Depicting the ruthlessness and barbarity of the lengths people have to resort to in order to escape their country, the film does not shy away from the harsh realities of the criminal underworld surrounding illegal immigration.
Despite the film’s distinct narrative sag in the middle (for a good third of its run-time), A Place To Be adeptly reflects the state of the US (and the West in general) at the moment. It holds a mirror up to our immigration systems, contrasting the familiarity of its characters with the callowness of US policy. This is definitely a film that will enrage you and, for that anger, it almost makes up for its flaws.