Bread and Roses
dir. Ken Loach
Opens Fri June 8
Fox Tower

When I arrived at the critics' screening of Bread and Roses, I was horrified to find a boisterous crowd of 30 union organizers there to see the film as well. I knew it was a pro-labor film by British director Ken Loach, and from the self-conscious jocularity of the crowd, I expected the worst. As the lights went down, one of the women in the group shouted out, "We're all going to sing along to all the songs, right?" and everyone in her group laughed. It was a beautiful day outside and I was stuck in a theater with union organizers screening a labor propaganda film. Jesus.

Twenty minutes into the film, you could hear a pin drop in the theater.

Set in the other Los Angeles--that of the working poor--Bread and Roses is the rare partisan, political film that doesn't proselytize. Maya (Pilar Padilla) is a Mexican girl who lands a job cleaning office towers through her older sister. Almost immediately, she gets a crush on the handsome gringo agitator, Sam (Adrien Brody), who's organizing a strike to demand the right to unionize. Maya's sister Rosa (the astonishing Elpidia Carrillo) has a sick husband and two kids and doesn't want to rock the boat. She considers Sam a middle-class carpetbagger, making 25K a year crusading for workers' rights, and she resents Maya's newfound radical views when they threaten to undermine her hard-won stability. The relationship between the sisters--Maya, mischievous and carefree; Rosa, responsible and embittered--takes a beating as organizers for "Justice for Janitors" stage protests and sit-ins in an escalating war with the white-collar bosses and their rent-a-cop troops.

The depth of characterization in both the writing and the performances was totally impressive. Ultimately the film is a winning romantic adventure/comedy in the tricky context of the protest film; and though sympathetic to unions, Loach doesn't let them off easy.

The combination was powerful enough to silence even the labor organizers at the screening. They filed out without saying--or singing--a goddamn thing.