Rancho California (Por Favor)

A worthy subject strangled by academia, John Caldwell's docu "Rancho California (Por Favor)" examines the dichotomy between wealthy Southern California suburbs and the makeshift immigrant-labor communities that have sprung up just outside their gates.

A worthy subject strangled by academia, John Caldwell’s docu “Rancho California (Por Favor)” examines the dichotomy between wealthy Southern California suburbs and the makeshift immigrant-labor communities that have sprung up just outside their gates. Writer-helmer’s incessant “deconstructive” voiceover critiques might be OK for the classroom, but in this context, such intellectualizing seems misguided, even trivializing of the immediate human/political issues. Even pubcasters will have a hard time swallowing indulgent pic, a long slog even at 64 slim minutes.

Shot over six years, feature takes stock of Mexican immigrant enclaves near the border. Populated by day laborers, these near-invisible “towns” are secreted away in canyons and hillsides near rich white suburbs; their “informal housing” often built of found materials, sans electricity or running water. The class/racial/economic injustices are obvious. But despite theme’s potency and some insights from interviewed activists, “Rancho” is determined to funnel everything through the driest academic jargon. Intertitles like “I. Self-Representation (And the Patron Inside),” as well as refs to “hybrid identities” set the tone. At one point, graffiti and homemade religious shrines are museum-cataloged onscreen as examples of “outsider art.” In a word: Shaddap. Tech aspects are mediocre.

Rancho California (Por Favor)

Production: An Agora Telefilm production. Produced by Russian "hippie" auteur Artur Aristakisyan's ("Palms") new feature is a barely narrative chronicle of Moscow communal life that on every level -- from B&W filmmaking style to religious-allegorical content -- feels like a throwback to countercultural epochs. John Caldwell. Co-producer, Devora Gomez. Directed, edited by John Caldwell.

Crew: Camera (color, video), music, Devora Gomez, Otis John, El Frente. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Frontier), Jan. 12, 2002. Running time: 64 MIN.

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