Centering on a classic father-son conflict, “Roosters” is an absorbing family drama marked by Freudian symbolism and the fatalism of a Greek tragedy. Superb acting, particularly by Sonia Braga, almost makes up for the lack of sustained dramatic interest and some rough shifts between the film’s realistic scenes and its more poetic ones. Prospects for theatrical release for this Latino intergenerational drama, set in the Southwest, are good.
Narrative begins with the coming home of Gallo Morales (Edward James Olmos), a legendary breeder of fighting cocks, after seven years in prison for manslaughter. His return is anxiously anticipated by his sturdy wife, Juana (Sonia Braga), 20-year-old rebellious son Hector (Danny Nucci) and, especially, adolescent daughter Angela (Sarah Lassez), who suffers, in her own words, from “acute neglect.” Also living in the house is Chata (Maria Conchita Alonso), Gallo’s sister, whose overt sensuality ignites her libidinous nephew.
The conflict that haunts and eventually tears the family apart revolves around a prize-fighting cock that Hector inherited from his grandfather, to the utmost resentment of his father, for whom the cock is a symbol of his macho, patriarchal power. Wishing to escape the drudgery of farm work, Hector is determined to win a cockfight and forge a new life for himself and his family.
The film’s central and most moving figure is the sensitive daughter, who wears handmade wings and lives her fantasy life in a lair beneath the front porch. A dedicated Catholic, she holds conversations with her favorite saints and plays with religious icons in a miniature graveyard.
Adapting her 1987 stage hit to the screen, Milcha Sanchez-Scott has opened up her compelling play without sacrificing its dramatic intensity. However, in pic’s second part, a few of the one-on-one confrontational scenes reveal the theatrical origins of the material.
Robert M. Young, who last co-directed the landmark documentary “Children of Fate,” endows the film with the haunting, doomed feel of a genuine Greek tragedy , but he is less successful in providing smooth transitions between the drama’s realism and its poetic imagery. Nonetheless, “Roosters” reflects Young’s compassionate humanism and his great work with actors.
As the long-suffering but strong matriarch who keeps the family together through all its crises, Braga gives one of her quietest — and best — performances. She is supposed to look plain, but Braga is stunning even without makeup.
Debutante Lassez is heartbreaking as the daughter who desperately needs her father’s love and attention. Playing an ambitious role, and providing the film’s most lyrical — and comic — moments, Lassez acquits herself magnificently. As the stubborn patriarch, Olmos is not as good as the women, though his acting is less mannered and monotonous than in previous outings.
Production values are first-rate in every department. Reynaldo Villalobos, who recently lensed Robert De Niro’s “A Bronx Tale,” scores another triumph, effectively capturing the desolate beauty and bone-dry heat of the Southwest.