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Tortilla Heaven (DVD)

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Genre: Documentary / Theatrical Release: 2007 / Actors: Elpidia Carrillo, Alexis Cruz, Olivia Hussey, George Lopez, Elaine Miles ... / DVD released 2008-10-14 at Starz/Anchor Bay / Features of the DVD: Colour, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC

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      28.06.2009 12:48
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      A Bit of a Mess

      Falfurrias - where and what is it? It is a small isolated town in New Mexico, has a population of 73 and has one road only leading into the town - well more like a dust track than a road. Why would anyone in their right mind want to visit this small community of Latino farmers who live in the desert? Well, hidden away in this dustbowl is one of the best restaurants in the state of New Mexico except that nobody knows that it exists.

      Izzy (Isidor) Navarro (Jose Zuniga) is the owner of the restaurant, Tortilla Heaven. He is a talented cook but a philistine and while the rest of the tight-knit community including his devout wife and son, attend mass at the church across the road, Izzy bustles around preparing food for the lunchtime trade. Whilst preparing some dough he gets frustrated and hurls it on to the grill, shouting and cursing out loud. As if in response to Izzy's desecration, the tortilla begins to burn in a remarkable way and what we then see in front uf us is an image of Jesus Christ. At first he doesn't see the miracle staring back at him but when he eventually does he wants to keep it a secret but his wife has other ideas. Before long, the entire town have found out and are banging on his door begging to see the gastronomical wonder. Izzy is a poor man and has been living hand to mouth. He realises now that this is the time to make a small fortune from this supernatural event.

      As the word spreads visitors flock into the town. Izzy makes a shrine in his refrigerator and charges 3 dollars per head to take a glimpse of the famous tortilla. Every day the restaurant is packed out and he is unable to cope with all the visitors. At the same time amazing events start to take place and it seems that the tortilla has exceptional healing qualities; rusty old trucks come to life and hit the road again, a little boy in a wheelchair is suddenly able to walk and a beloved pig is ressurected

      When law attorney, Gill Garcia rolls into town things start to go pear shaped. A slimy opportunist lies behind the sleek management consultant's mask and the only thing he is interested in is making loads of money. He gets Izzy to sign on the dotted line and takes over the management of his restaurant. The word of the holy tortilla spreads and tourists stream into this small town. The town thrives but at the same time gets caught up in a frenzy of excessiveness, petty squabbling and overspending. Everyone wants a piece of the tortilla including the local priest and the Mayor who has his heart set on designing a municipal golf course which he thinks will bring more tourists to the town. What was once a heavenly town is now hellish and Izzie has to decide what is important to him - his big fat wallet or his wife, family and friends........

      Judy Hecht Dumontet's first feature is inspired by the true story of a culinary manifestation that took place in Lake Arthur in New Mexico. The sighting of Jesus' face was reported in 1977. This modern day fable is amusing but not as funny as the director thinks it is or would like it to be. Every scene slips into lengthy hysterics, usually with excessively loud salsa music throbbing in the background. Scenes like the over the top courtroom case and the nude milkmaid are somewhat absurd and I did feel at times the comedy was forced.

      Tortilla Heaven is an independent, low-budget film and it has that amateur look about it. Although some of the cinematography is beautiful and time inspiring, most of the scenes are messy. Filmed on location in California and New Mexico gives it more of an authentic look and you certainly get the feeling that the town of Falfurrias is a town full of pastel shaded houses made from mud and straw with peppers growing in the gardens underneath a blue sky. The cast of Latinos and native Americans are well represented in the film although sometimes depicted as folksy caricatures who cross themselves in an excited way at every opportunity and speak in a Mexican-English accent, with the odd exclamation of Spanish thrown in every now and again.

      The acting from all the cast is good if a little over the top. Three actors who shine are; George Lopez who adds a bit of spice to the 97 minutes. He is a very funny comedian and I feel he should have had more screen time than he actually did.

      Lupe Ontivero who always plays maids or housewives was very funny as the over sexed, curvaceous, older woman running around chasing every man in trousers.

      Miguel Sanchoval was believable in his role as Gill Garcia. He really was very good at playing the slick, oily bad guy. As soon as he came on screen you knew he was manipulative and going to be trouble.

      The script was co written by the director and Julius Robinson. Robinson's experience comes from a musical background which becomes evident after five minutes into the movie. A brave departure, in my view, and unfortunately not a successful one. The plot is not very inspiring although the actors do the best they can. I did feel that the actors were all under utilised.

      Apparently there were 14 different producers working on this film and boy, does it show. The production is jumpy and disjointed. The editing is all over the place and the music is far too loud. What could have been a charming religious comic fable turns out to be a flat 97 minutes of strained comedy. I think the directors' objective was for the audience to be uplifted when they walked out of the cinemas but I wasn't - I felt as flat as a pancake or should I say tortilla.

      This film was shown in a small cinema in Warsaw where foreign films are usually shown and when I noticed the poster outside advertising the film I was intrigued because I liked the artwork which was surreal and absurd and I suppose part of me thought the film might be awful but in a kitsch way.

      I thought that the film would probably be a lot of fun but it turned out to be only slightly amusing. I certainly didn't laugh out loud. In lots of ways this is very much like a foreign film and definitely has an indie feel to it. It is suffused with religious themes but really it is criticising the church for its greedy ways. It also makes fun of human behaviour - how people are always striving to get what they want in life and how they will do anything to get what they want even if it destroys family life. I think the portrayal of Hispanics in this part of America is a positive one and there is a slight spiritual feel to the film but I didn't think it was that deep and meaningful.

      The film is rated PG 13 as there are a couple of scenes with nudity and some swearing but nothing too drastic and I think the rating is fine. I believe you can purchase the DVD from Amazon but will need a multi-region DVD player. I wouldn't recommend purchasing it or even renting it - wait until it appears on some obscure channel. I think if the direction wasn't such a mess I would have enjoyed the film more but it is too messy for me and the humour too forced.

      However, it is very colourful and the scenery is fantastic and if you like tortillas, enchaladas, burittos and refried beans then I guess you may appreciate the culinary visuals as Tex-mex cuisine is shown in a very positive light.

      I don't like to be a party pooper but for me this was one film that just didn't warm the cockels of my heart and have me laughing hysterically.

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