“Alambrista!” (“The Illegal”) is filmmaker Robert M. Young’s portrait of a Mexican farm worker’s journey across the border into California. Young’s film is an unflinching account of one man’s journey and is a refreshing change to far too many pessimistic accounts of illegal immigrants seen as roaches on the North American landscape.
“Alambrista!” was made for television in 1978 and one could argue at a more questioning time in the US. It is doubtful that this kind of story would be made today in this vacuous contemporary culture of celebrity adoration and “reality” TV. But what makes “Alambrista!” and all of Young’s work special is his beautiful cinematography coupled with genuine story telling that put him in the class of his European counterparts Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.
Roberto (Domingo Ambriz) leaves his peaceful life in Mexico and journeys to California only to discover that for him it is hardly the land of opportunity. His journey is never sentimental and it is only time before he throws in the towel and returns home. But before he does we watch him learn how to act like an American. He meets Joe (Trinidad Silva), who gives him a lesson in how to walk into a café and order American food. Roberto inevitably meets a waitress (Linda Gillan) who serves as padding for his double life –he already has a wife in Mexico. It is Sharon who helps him with the every day machinery of living in a foreign country, yet despite this assimilation Roberto will always be a foreigner.