Demian Bichir is one of three acting brothers, kind of like the Baldwins of Mexico. They've worked so much that the MTV Movie Awards-Mexico once featured a category for "Best Bichir in a Movie." Demian won.
Bichir, 47, has now crossed the border, properly documented unlike the humble gardener Bichir plays in the superb immigration drama A Better Life.
You may have seen Bichir in Showtime's Weeds or Steven Soderbergh's Che, playing Fidel Castro. You need to see him in A Better Life, which, like many of the finest movies, isn't doing well at the box office. It's stashed at only one local theater, Veterans 24 in Tampa, but it's well worth the drive.
If that's too far, allow Bichir to offer a taste of what you're missing, in this telephone chat:
A Better Life makes a good argument for giving breaks to undocumented workers. Was that the plan?
That's exactly why we made this film. I have a lot of Anglo friends who don't speak a word of Spanish, and I'm getting e-mails from them saying they can't believe how their perspective of the immigration issue changed in two hours of seeing this film. We shouldn't forget that this country is based on immigration, forever. None of us were here before except the Indians.
Now you're another Latin actor who can make such movies. Why is it important for U.S. audiences to see them?
Art is about variety. Whoever likes to be touched by any piece of art — a painting, music, a poem — that's universal. This is the most important market in the world. If you can film here and it becomes important, the rest of the world will know that.
A Better Life shows a vibrant Mexican culture in Los Angeles that most of us haven't seen, like a foreign country inside a U.S. city.
In this film the streets are a whole other character. I've been living in Los Angeles for many years and I've been pretty much everywhere, but I'd never seen those great locations, those amazing corners where we shot. What about that Mexican rodeo? That's right there, and I had never seen it.
It's like a modest detective story and family drama dropped into a documentary.
What this film deals with in a really nice form is that immigration isn't a political issue — it's a human issue, especially the separation of the families. There are millions of undocumented workers here. They all have houses, they all have lives and kids. It's urgent that we give these people a face and a name because they all have a heart.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.