A scene from 'La Ciudad (The City)'
Courtesy Photo
"LA CIUDAD (The City)"
**1/2 stars In Spanish with English subtitles
88 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, February 25, 2000 (SF)
Directed by David Riker

Starring Cipriano Garcia, Leticia Herrera, Jose Rabelo, Stephanie Viruet, SIlvia Goiz, Maria Galante & Antonio Peralta

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Fest film features four stories of struggling immigrants in the harsh underbelly of NYC

By Rob Blackwelder

A character study of hope and frustration in the Third World underbelly of New York City, "La Ciudad" is an independent film labor of love from first-time director David Riker, who spent five years working on the movie.

In a quartet of social depression and hardship vignettes with art film airs and a belabored cello soundtrack, Riker depicts a handful of Latino immigrants struggling with poverty-class life in the America.

One story follows a dozen day laborers, one with a young son in tow, who are loaded on the back of a truck, taken to the remote, abandoned factory and paid 15-cents per piece to clean and stack used bricks from the collapsed building. Tragedy befalls one of the workers, setting off a desperate search for help.

Another features a sweatshop seamstress (Silvia Goiz) trying to scrape together money to pay for her sickly daughter's hospitalization and meeting with excuses from her bosses, who haven't paid her in four weeks.

A third chapter follows an optimistic new arrival (Cipriano Garcia) searching for his relatives. Failing to find them, he spends the night with a pretty girl, then gets hopelessly lost in her neighborhood of identical high-rise tenements while returning from a grocery run for the ingredients to make a romantic breakfast.

The fourth story is about a homeless puppeteer (Jose Rabelo) met with bureaucratic red tape when he tries to enroll his daughter in public school without a permanent address.

Tied together by brief episodes in a run-down, storefront portrait studio, through which Riker parades an even wider array of similarly travailed immigrants, "La Ciudad" is a sad and simple film, poignantly told in a grainy, black and white stock that gives New York City a oppressive, gray atmosphere.

The film has the glaze of fresh-from-film school pretension about it, which at times overshadows the notably raw and unrestrained emotions of its non-professional cast. It also seems like Riker's activist left brain wrestled with his artistic right brain in the editing room. I half expected to see a manifesto on injustice and an address for charitable donations flash on the screen before the credits rolled.

But even though the deliberateness of it all intrudes on the narrative and Riker seems to be under the impression that this kind of difficult life is a recent development for immigrants, the end result is still a beautifully rendered social document of the striving and strife faced by many new Americans.

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