News / Arts & Entertainment

In 'A Better Life', Illegal Immigrant Finds Land of Dreams Can Be Cruel

Demian Bichir, right, and Jose Julian in
Demian Bichir, right, and Jose Julian in "A Better Life"
Alan Silverman

Director Chris Weitz had a global hit with the second film of the Twilight saga. Now he has left behind the world of vampires and is telling a real world story of an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles. Here's a look at the new film A Better Life.



"This country is a land of dreams. It can be a hard place …a cruel place …but it is where I work, and I dream of a better life for my son."




Carlos Galindo is a gardener.  He works long hours trimming the manicured lawns and maintaining the lush gardens in wealthy communities like Beverly Hills.

Then he goes home to a poor neighborhood where gunfire from street gangs punctuates the night.  He desperately tries to keep his teenage son Luis out of trouble.

CARLOS: "How many days have you missed this year?"
LUIS: "I don't know …18 or 19."
CARLOS: "Not good, Luis. I don't want you to miss school any more. School is important. It is everything."
LUIS: "Oh, si professore?" [Oh yes, professor?]
CARLOS: "Do you want to end up like me?"
LUIS: "No."


Demian Bichir as Carlos in
Demian Bichir as Carlos in "A Better Life"

Luis was born in Los Angeles so he is, by law, a U.S. citizen. Carlos is undocumented. He's an illegal immigrant who entered from Mexico years earlier and he must hide his background or risk being deported.

It's a situation facing thousands of families in the Los Angeles area. They live in the shadows while politicians debate their future.

Jose Julian, director Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir on the set of
Jose Julian, director Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir on the set of "A Better Life"

Director Chris Weitz says A Better Life is not about the politics of illegal immigration. Rather, he says, it's a story about the hopes and struggles of real people.

"It is very quickly established the difference between father and son and how they perceive things," explains Weitz. "The son speaks English to his father in spite of that fact that in another situation he might speak Spanish; but he prefers the dominant culture. He has little respect for what his father does because the television tells him that if you don't have 'bling' [expensive jewelry] and fast cars and a big house you are not really worth anything."

CARLOS: "You are the most important thing in this world to me, 'mi hijo'. I wanted you to be able to be anything you wanted to be. That would make me feel worthy."

In 'A Better Life', Illegal Immigrant Finds Land of Dreams Can Be Cruel
In 'A Better Life', Illegal Immigrant Finds Land of Dreams Can Be Cruel

"Carlos is from a very traditional background. He is tremendously stoic. He is tremendously determined," notes Weitz. "But at the same time, because of the situation he is in, he keeps his head down. Also, he doesn't necessarily have the equipment emotionally at the beginning of the film to express to his son why he is doing what he's doing and how he feels about him. So part of the movie is the journey to his ability to say that sort of thing."

CARLOS: "I don't know what's going to happen to us."
LUIS: "You don't have to worry about me."
CARLOS: "I do worry. I worry about you all the time."


Demian Bichir as Carlos in
Demian Bichir as Carlos in "A Better Life"

One of Mexico's most famous actors, Demian Bichir, stars as Carlos. Bichir says he appreciates his character's dilemma: how to be a real presence in his son's life at home, while being invisible at work.

"This is something that comes naturally when you don't have the proper papers or documentation. You'd better try to stay invisible so you don't bring any attention to your life, because there is a big risk that they can take you back and then separate you from your family," Bichir explains.

While Chris Weitz insists A Better Life doesn't take a position on illegal immigrants,  Demian Bichir says he hopes the story will touch audiences and make them realize that the issue is about peoples' lives, not just statistics.

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