Which Way Home (DVD Review)24 Jan, 2011 By: Mike Clark
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Putting aside the politics of illegal immigration — which, OK, is admittedly impossible to do — a viewer might have to travel as long as some of the perilous train journeys in this Oscar-nominated documentary to find many more inherently dramatic subjects. Director Gregory Nava got something close to a classic — and, eventually, a Criterion Blu-ray release — out of 1983’s El Norte, one of the first features to portray illegals on a broad canvas. And Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre hasn’t needed too much passage of time to look like one of the most resonant movies of any kind released last year.
Home director Rebecca Cammisa’s portrait is strikingly similar to the latter, and the two films amount to a ready-made home double feature for anyone not in a festive mood. Both deal with the arduous trek youngsters have to make even before they reach the U.S.-Mexico border — on their way (sometimes, but not always) to link up with a relative who is somewhere in the States, possibly even as far away as New York City. One of the many interviewed adolescents talks vaguely of some old acquaintance he knows who is now somewhere in Texas, making crosses for a living. It’s not much of a wagon on which to hitch yourself for a financial future.
Cammisa doesn’t contrive a storyline but shows the journey ramifications from every angle: parental, legal, bureaucratic and the viewpoint of unofficial services designed to provide food and shelter along he way. Some youngsters take off on their own, some do so with parental consent and others go through a so-called agent who is almost as likely to take the money and run (or simply get drunk and forget his agreement). As a result, the unseasoned travelers may get stranded in the Mexican desert (there’s a harrowing part of the documentary where decomposed bodies are found). Another hazard is the plentiful railroad tunnels that materialize so frequently that kids riding atop the train (nicknamed “The Beast” for the ways it can lead to injury) can’t always get their heads down in time.
The vast majority of the travelers (or at least the ones profiled) are male, but one of the most appealing — who like most of the others seems innately intelligent — is a young girl. At the end, when the film chronicles what has happened to the each interviewee, she is among those who simply disappeared — though it’s safe to assume her fate wasn’t all that simple. A few make it across the U.S. border, but most do not, and quite a few return to their town (a generous word) of origin — which makes the documentary’s title very apt. A product of HBO’s documentary arm, Home won an Emmy in addition to its Oscar nomination (“Outstanding Informational Programming — Long Form”), though IMDb.com doesn’t reflect this in its “Awards” section.