Sueño is a mushy soap-style sideways glance at the lives and hopes of Mexican immigrants in the US
2005, Destination Films/El Camino
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: **
AT ONE LEVEL, this is intended to be a lighthearted musical that tells the story of Antonio, a young Mexican man, who has crossed into the US with a dream of becoming a recognised singer, Nina, a Mexican girl whose ambition is to go to university then become a vet, and Mirabella, a middle-aged Mexican woman whose musical hopes faded after her husband ditched her for a younger woman.
In this sense, it would be very easy to criticise Sueño for being a insubstantial soap-style mush with pleasant colours, folkloric ways and, above all, a happy ending.
But, almost in passing, Sueño also takes a sideways glance at Latino society in the US, and reveals how it is being portrayed in a new light by filmmakers as an established feature of the landscape with its very own tales of human interest, individual ambition and ability to compete on rivals’ terms. Without ever intending to, Sueño in fact has something to say about US Latinos.
This film does not mention once the difficulties faced by Mexicans who make it to America. Instead, it depicts characters who fit comfortably within LA’s Mexican-American aspirant lower middle-class. Its Mexicans are Mexican-Americans struggling to climb the ladder of their new society and participate in its dreams.
John Leguízamo (Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet) is a fine actor whose talents are wasted creating an authentic Mr Nice-guy who wants to get the girl but is ignored while he works hard to help others fulfil their dreams.
Ana Claudia Talancón (El crimen del padre Amaro), again perhaps without intending to, becomes as much a device of feminist assertion as the film’s token beauty interest: love goes on hold while she considers her future, although she loses much of her fire as the movie progresses. Her character’s biggest dream is not getting hitched, but becoming a professional.
Elizabeth Peña (Transamerica), however, is unfortunately predictable as the older woman who sees herself as out-of-date and confuses admiration with courtship. Yet she does help to reinforce an atmosphere in Sueño in which existing stereotypes of Mexican macho men are well and truly out and even submissive women can be potentially mistresses of their own destiny.
Naively, Sueño presents Mexicans in a new way: with the same dreams and aspirations as everyone else, far from the pig-ignorant campesinos who do not know how to turn on a light switch that we have become wearily used to.
Its most significant weakness – apart from the introductory credits that are so long one is almost exhausted after having watched them – is the music, ironically, which fails to take advantage of the potential for Latin moments that could transform a pedestrian work into something much more interesting.
This reveals that, despite the subliminal messages we can read into it if we choose to, Sueño was made to please the crowd without pretensions.
Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican journalist