Monday, October 02, 2006

ECHO PARK LA/QUINCEANERA - Love Without Judgement, Part One

In a weak year, ECHO PARK LA (QUINCEANERA in the US) won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance 2006. Well, for my money, ECHO PARK LA is not going to set the world alight or change the face of cinema but it is a rather heart-warming, if slow-moving, emotional drama. I can honestly say I was happy to get to know the central character of the piece and even shed a tear at the end.

The movie is set in the Echo Park district of LA - an area inhabited by working class hispanic Americans but rapidly being gentrified. Generational change is a theme of the movie. Parents and children cling to traditions such as the Quinceanera - the coming-of-age ceremony for fifteen year-old girls. But these days, the ball-room dancing and religious ceremony go hand-in-hand with pimped out hummer limos and kids krumping in the church hall. Where ECHO PARK LA excels is in depicting the small incidental details of community life in a leisured and intimate manner that isn't patronising or sensational. The film-makers do this by using largely untrained and local actors, locations and a lot of hand-held Digital Video camera-work. Luckily for them, the constraints of the low budget lead to good artistic choices.

But the real meat and bones of the movie plays on a universal level - a plea for love without judgement. The movie concentrates on three people. Magdalena is a fourteen-year old girl who has improbably fallen pregnant through non-penetrative sexual activity. Shunned by her preacher father, not least for claiming that she is still a virgin, Magdalena moves in with her grand-uncle, Tomas. Tomas is also harbouring her gay cousin Carlos - a supposed hoodlum who is actually a stand-up guy. They are both sheltered and nurtured without criticism and with infinite patience by Tomas - who is the still, quiet centre of this movie. It truly is a pleasure to spend time with a guy like that.

All in all, ECHO PARK LA really isn't one of the handful of unmissable movies you have to see, but it's a gentle and sweet look at life where cultures, generations and lifestyles clash. There are many worse ways to spend ninety minutes than to watch this film, and if the message seems banal or trite to some, it is at least heart-felt and very much needed.

ECHO PARK LA played at Sundance 2006, opened in the US in Spring and is now on release in the UK. It is released on Region 1 DVD later this month.


  1. I agree with you whole heartedly. It's not a fantastic film but the characters are definately attaching. I particularly liked Tomas.

  2. Exactly, Marina. People like Tomas do exist and are transformative and it's great to have a movie celebrate that.