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In America (Jim Sheridan)

In America

In America (2002, Jim Sheridan)

Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The Name Of the Father) and his daughters Naomi and Kirsten co-wrote this semi-autobiographical, poignant story of an Irish family who move to America to seek their fortunes. Sheridan’s personal take on the subject brings us a story that is moving, honest, and just a little bit magical.

Paddy Considine is Johnny, a struggling actor who brings his wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton) and two daughters, Christy and Ariel (the utterly amazing Sarah and Emma Bolger, real-life sisters) to New York after the death of their son. At first, the family appears happy, but the cracks in their happiness soon show. Johnny struggles to find parts in plays, and Sarah works in an ice-cream parlor. They live in a neighborhood that it would be generous to call a slum, but for the girls, “America’s OK!”

What makes this story different from any old tale of a family overcoming all odds, besides the intimacy of the material, is the thread of magical realism running through the story. Djimon Hounsou, who has made a career of playing the wise black sidekick in films such as Gladiator and The Four Feathers, finally has a real character to play in Mateo, the downstairs neighbor. Mateo is an artist dying of AIDS, but he embraces the life in Christy and Ariel, and becomes the confidante for the whole family.

There are strong performances given all around, but the young Bolger sisters are outstanding. Christy narrates the film, and you see the magic in the world through her eyes. Though life is sometimes cruel to this family, they manage to be happy without being naive, and though America is not paradise, the family manages to make a home there.


Madame Sata, (2002, Karim Ainouz)

Joao Francisco is arrested several times during the course of this film, but the time that remains in the memory is when he is asked by a fellow prisoner what he’s in for. He replies, “Flouting authority.”

Flouting authority is what this illiterate Jean Genet of Brazil does best. Where Genet wrote beautiful lyrical books out of his experiences, Joao Francisco (Lazaro Ramos) turns them into performance art as Madame Sata, his drag alter ego. A powerfully built, beautiful capoeira expert who doesn’t see having sex with men or wearing makeup as interfering with his manhood, Joao presides over the Lapa underworld of Rio de Janeiro. He runs a tight-knit “family,” including Laurita, (Marcelia Cartaxo) a beautiful prostitute, and his lover Renatinho (Felipe Marques).

The film is less a well-documented biography and more a loose portrait of a fascinating character. It often eschews plot clarity in favor of artistically shot scenes, but what it does best is give a feeling for this man as he is growing into himself. Unlike the recent Party Monster, this film isn’t afraid of Joao’s sexuality or his violence. The most interesting thing about Joao is that he lived, not in the ’80’s or ’90’s, but in the ’30’s and ’40’s. You can forget this while watching the film, as its characters seem as if they would fit in perfectly in the underbelly of any city in the present time.

Watching this film, I couldn’t help but think of Genet’s opening to The Thief’s Journal, “I give the name violence to a boldness lying idle and enamored of danger. It can be seen in a look, a walk, a smile, and it is in you that it creates an eddying. It unnerves you. This violence is a calm that disturbs you. One sometimes says, ‘A guy with class!'” Joao Francisco is this kind of dangerous, and has this kind of class.


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