FILMMAKER: Mark Becker
REVIEWED BY: Katy Jones
This melodramatic, sincere portrait begins in San Francisco. The protagonist of our film is a man squashed by fate. After a tragic and painful childhood, illegal Mexican immigrant Carmelo comes to San Francisco where he makes his living going back and forth to bars playing Mexican folk songs for tips. He does pretty well, sleeps on a mattress in a group house with other immigrants, and sends money back to his family. To say he is happy…eh, but he is desperately trying to give his daughters back home a life he never had.
After three years, he just can’t take the separation anymore, and flies home to Mexico, leaving his best friend, the alcoholic Arturo, behind. His family is happy to have him there, but in gaining their father, they lose their income. He winds up making a few dollars a night playing in cheap bars where prostitutes get their johns to “buy songs” from him. Or he peddles homemade ice cream on the street giving away cones because he can’t stand to say no to the beggar children that remind him of himself.
Carmelo, his face permanently drawn a tragicomic masterpiece, must be one of the most photogenic men ever. He is appealing and moving and sad and happy. As he says, “Unfortunately, God made me, and I make do.” The story goes almost nowhere. A fact illustrated by the occasional completely unmotivated slo mo that permeates the film. Although it begins in California and ends in Mexico, little appreciable changes about his status in life. But like the sad songs he sings about romance lost, he endures and persists. In going no where, the film rings true. It’s not a travelogue, it’s a portrait of a man’s life doing the best he can with what life has given him.
This is a sad melodramatic musical. But it is also a buddy film. Arturo doesn’t like being left alone in San Francisco, so he also returns to their shared hometown. And Carmelo benefits from his friend’s return. He’s enthused and inspired, the sound of his music improves when he plays with his longtime collaborator.
Like so many fathers, Carmelo sees his contribution in monetary value rather than personal. He sometimes doesn’t see how much his daughters need his guidance as much as a better life. Romantico is a film about a man’s life – with awkward family moments, and fathers who never really do understand their daughters, and good men in all shapes and sizes. Even if they aren’t perfect heros.
4 out of 5 cheers