Immigrant Song

Dir. and writ. Pablo Véliz; feat. Jorge Jimenez, Mariana Wachter, Kristel Lara, Pedro Garcia Jr., Jeff Horny (NR)
Well, I don’t feel quite so bad for Macario anymore. (That, or I feel worse. I’m not quite sure which.)

Thing is, even if the protagonist of twentysomething San Antonio filmmaker (and recent UTSA graduate) Pablo Véliz’s debut La Tragedia de Macario had successfully made it across the Texas-Mexico border and secured a job stateside, a glance at Véliz’s second feature, Clemente, suggests that his troubles certainly wouldn’t have ended there.

Indeed, Clemente picks up where Macario would presumably have liked to have left off: Mexican immigrant Clemente (Jorge Jimenez) lives and works in San Antonio, on his way to earning American citizenship. He works steadily as a mechanic, wrestles lucha-libre style on the weekends, and dotes on his family, particularly on 9-ish, chirpy, adoring daughter Dalia (Mariana Wachter). Sure, things aren’t perfect. Clemente’s supercilious mother-in-law (and much of the post-pubescent female contingent of wife Lorena’s family, incidentally) thinks he’s a bum — a perception he’s unable to shrug off entirely. His legal status is uncertain, and apparently stalled; the lawyer overseeing his case is remarkably uninterested in helping. Lorena, bombarded persistently with nagging, motherly admonishments, has begun to wonder whether Clemente only married her in order to fast-track his citizenship. Regardless, the days seem more or less manageable, and the family treads water reasonably happily — until INS agents raid the auto shop, capture Clemente, and deport him to Mexico. Clem must then somehow find his way back across the border and home; his family, low on money and short on prospects, must try, meantime, to survive without him.

Clemente certainly has its problems. Like Macario, it tends frequently to fall back on extended handheld shots, which don’t always seem justified, and serve occasionally to compromise moments. A handful of jerky crane shots are likewise distracting. There are a few choice sequences (one of them is breathtakingly spectacular), but camerawork generally isn’t the film’s strongest point. Acting and script also periodically suffer — somewhat mightily, in some points — but Clemente’s saving graces are its story and its heart, the latter provided by a believable, enduringly winsome father-daughter rapport between Jimenez and Wachter.

As Clemente, Jimenez never falters: there isn’t a moment in which you catch him acting. His performance is natural and effortless, but switches on the intensity/charm when needed. Wachter, a first-time actress, has a bit of difficulty in one or two instances, but otherwise seems as comfortable as Jimenez — she brings a light, unselfconscious presence to the proceedings, and it’s generally an enlivening treat when she’s onscreen.

There are considerable and maddening snags in Clemente. By the final act, however, they have either ceased altogether or ceased to be perceptible, and there is nothing but the absorbing, emotionally resonant story of a man’s journey back to his family. At film’s end, when you’re hit with the big guns — swelling score, the aforementioned stunning visuals, and a judicious poignant kick — go ahead, get a little misty. You’ve earned it. And so, despite its blemishes, has Clemente.