The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

'All Of Me' Chases A Troublesome Train To The American Dream

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 30, 2015 8:45PM

Photo: © Outsider Pictures

Sometimes a movie only needs one scene to justify its existence. In the new documentary All of Me (Llévate Mis Amores), it's a similar scene shown several times: an amazing, real-life food delivery service in which meals in bags and bottles of water are held out for migrant workers passing through rural Mexico on a speeding locomotive. Hazardous to the recipients as well as the volunteers handing out the food, this tension-filled service better demonstrates in a few fleeting seconds the desperation of people trying to get to the United States than any political speech on immigration I've heard my entire life.

Donald Trump should be forced to watch those scenes, Clockwork Orange-style.

The workers, coming from all over Central America, ride illegally on a freight train nicknamed "The Beast" from the edge of Guatemala through Mexico and to the U.S. border. Aside from the dangers of hitching a ride on the non-passenger train and the possibility of being caught by police or immigration officials, the migrants also are at risk of kidnapping once they get near the border. Mexican gangsters have made an industry out of blackmailing impoverished relatives to pay for the lives of those unlucky enough to fall into their hands.

However, the focus of All of Me isn't those riding the train, but the inspiring "Patronas"—a small group of women from the Mexican village of La Patrona, who have been making and delivering those meals to the migrants since 1995. Closely bound by family lines and faith, the women put themselves at no small risk as they stand near the tracks, hands nervously outstretched with their bags, hoping to get food into as many hands as possible without accidentally pulling someone off or getting dragged along.

Director Arturo González Villaseñor captures the dedication of the women, and this is obviously a heartfelt project. Unfortunately, the bulk of All of Me feels a little slack in pacing and haphazard in construction. Naturally, the day-to-day preparation of food and quiet interviews with the Patronas can't match the visceral impact of the train scenes, but González Villaseñor fails to shape his significant material into a satisfying whole. The movie is a very slow-paced 90 minutes and it feels like the vital message and emotions would have been more effectively conveyed in half that time.

Still, there is great value in the interviews with the women and men who work hard for little-to-no money with the remote dream of a better life—more value than those who vacantly embrace the widespread stereotypes of "parasitic immigrants" will likely allow themselves to witness. From the farm to the factory, the labor never seems to end for most of these people, and yet they show amazing compassion. The story of how several of the Patronas saved the life of a young man who fell off the train and gruesomely lost his foot is told in vivid detail.

Underneath the nobility, there is tremendous sadness. For the women encouraged to marry and bear children far too early (one 24-year-old says she has a 9-year-old child), the depression of a life determined when they were still really children is ever-present. One of the Patronas says of her lost dreams with a sad smile, "You get married, have kids, and then it's over."

If González Villaseñor comes up short in his direction, there is compensation in Juan Antonio Mecalco's gleaming videography, which captures the scenic beauty of the natural settings without diminishing the obvious poverty all around.

Another election year is on the horizon and we are already suffering the demonizing of immigrants from that crazy-haired fellow who gets more camera time than any cartoon blowhard deserves. There are sound, intelligent arguments to be made for limiting immigration, and they should be listened to seriously. But if nothing else, All of Me stands as a stark reminder of the struggling, hoping-against-hope humanity that is the real core of the issue.

All of Me. Directed by Arturo González Villaseñor. In Spanish with English subtitles. 90 mins. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday, July 31 at Facets Cinémathèque.