ALAMBRISTA! (THE ILLEGAL) (director/writer: Robert M. Young; cinematographers: Robert M. Young/Tom Hurwitz/Robert M. Young; editor: Edward Beyer; music: Michael Martin Murphey; cast: Domingo Ambriz (Roberto), Trinidad Silva (Joe), Linda Gillen (Sharon), Ned Beatty (Anglo Coyote), Ludevina Mendez Salazar (Roberto’s Wife), Maria Guadalupe Chavez (Roberto’s Mother); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Hausman/ Irwin W. Young; Criterion Collection, The; 1977)

“A worthy social drama on the heartbreaking hardships of being a Mexican illegal in the States.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The low-budget drama was made for public television. It’s the feature film directorial debut of Robert M. Young (“The Eskimo: Fight for Life”/”Saving Grace”/”Dominick and Eugene), who also functions as writer and cinematographer. It’s a worthy social drama on the heartbreaking hardships of being a Mexican illegal in the States, but fails to show enough righteous anger at the politicians who permit this intolerable system of immigration to still exist even in 2012. It’s based on Young’s experience of living a year in the 1970s with Mexican wet-backs in the US Southwest, which makes the film seem authentic. The sub-human conditions recorded for the living conditions of the illegals is old hat, but still is insightful for those not fully aware of how the illegal is exploited in America. But even though the sensitive characterizations of the illegals is welcomed and gives Americans an accurate look at how perverted its immigration policy is, the film is too bland and filled with too many stereotypical depictions of the illegals to get one too excited.

It won the Camera d’Or at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival and unfairly became forgotten.

Roberto Ramirez (Domingo Ambriz) is a young married field hand in a rural area of Michoac√°n,Mexico, whose wife just gave birth to a daughter. Afraid he can’t support his family, Roberto goes north, crossing the border to California, where the non-English-speaking illegal hopes to make enough money in a year to return to support his family. Of note, his mom reminds him that his father went north and mysteriously never returned. After eluding an immigration police raid while he works at picking fruit, Roberto hooks up with Mexican colleagues to survive and lives in a chicken coop. Joe (Trinidad Silva) acts as the innocent Roberto’s mentor and teaches him how to smile for the gringos and order coffee, ham and eggs for breakfast.

The illegal Roberto and Joe become sidekicks and ride a freight to Stockton, but get separated. When the exhausted fruit picker with no place to live, Roberto, falls asleep in the luncheonette, near Stockton, the sweet waitress gringo single-mom Sharon (Linda Gillen) feels sorry for him and takes him home. They become lovers and Sharon teaches him English, how to send a money order home, and takes the fish-out-of-water to an evangelist Sunday revival meeting and, he goes for the first time, to a department store. But just as quickly as they met, they depart when he’s troubled by the immigration police and has become homesick. The two will not even have a chance to say goodbye to each other, as they separate for good.

The earnest muckraking film lets us know that the illegal can always expect the worse in America; and, even though he does the unwanted labor most people in America refuse to do, he’s still never respected for that. The illegals fate in America is to always be on the run from the police and be made aware from others that he’s an outsider who is unwelcome in the States by most.