BREAD AND ROSES
directed by Ken Loach with Adrien Brody, Pilar Padilla, and Elpidia Carrillo opens June 1 at Broadway Market
WORKING IN ENGLISH for the first time—sorry, make that working in English that Americans can understand for the first time!–veteran British leftist director Ken Loach now sets up shop in our own backyard. Previously the creator of Ladybird, Ladybird, Raining Stones, and other agitprop films badly in need of subtitles, Loach here embraces the cause of nonunion—and mostly Hispanic—office cleaners in Los Angeles. Can it be any surprise to learn that they’re woefully underpaid and shamefully exploited? Can it be so shocking to witness their hardships, working late at night in the empty skyscrapers we complicit yuppies evacuate every evening? Is a union the answer to their suffering?
S��/I> Having no less bluntly established the class conflicts of Bread and Roses, Loach fleshes out didacticism with melodrama. Maya (Pilar Padilla) crosses the border illegally from Mexico to join her sister Rosa (Salvador‘s Elpidia Carrillo) in the janitorial trade. Naturally, Rosa has kids and a sick husband to support, and naturally, feisty Maya must choose between two potential lovers: Jewish labor organizer Sam (Liberty Heights‘ Adrien Brody) has raffish, comic charm, while Maya’s hunky fellow janitor Ruben is a Horatio Alger-type working toward a law school scholarship. (Rosa and Maya’s boss is, naturally, evil incarnate.)
Occasionally Bread manages to break through its how-to tone (how to organize, how to demonstrate, how to shame corporate overlords). Romance between Sam and Maya is stymied when she pointedly asks of his zealousness, “What do you risk?” In other words, he’s a white college grad who could easily join the legions of office drones who take for granted that their wastebaskets get emptied and carpets vacuumed. It’s one of the few moments when Bread places drama before pedagogy. (Sam alluding to $40 million in union money “pissed down the toilet last year” for Gore’s re-election effort is another instance when the movie suggests other, better directions not taken.)
Bread‘s disappointment is that it takes real issues and organizations—like the ongoing Justice for Janitors campaign—and trivializes them with such inept, polemical filmmaking. When Maya, working late at night, waves from one office tower to a colleague in another across the courtyard, their tacit solidarity speaks louder than any slogan or placard. “This is not a fairy tale,” Rosa grimly declares. Even if her ultimate showdown with Maya owes more to telenovela than Trotsky, her cynicism rings truer than Bread‘s triumphant pro- labor message.