Luminarias

LUMINARIAS NOMINATED FOR BEST EXPOSÉ OF THE YEAR 2000
Because Latinas tend to play a stereotypical role in most mainstream films, the movie Luminarias is a window into a subculture that opens and brings fresh air in a manner similar to how The Joy Luck Club (1993) opened the eyes of filmviewers to the difficulties of life among Chinese American females. The title refers not only to the name of an upscale restaurant in Los Ángeles catering to Latinos but also translates in Spanish as brightly shining women. As the tagline hints, “It’s all about love.” The story revolves around four middle-aged but attractive Mexican Americans who are trying to find life and love in contemporary Los Ángeles, California but form a support group because of the ambiguities in a city that offers upward mobility to the well-trained, opportunities to meet men of other cultures, but nostalgia for roots in the barrio of East Los Angeles. Among the four, who alternately accept or reject being described as Chicanas, Latinas, or Mexicanas (when they are perhaps really Californianas), there is a lawyer, a psychotherapist, and two others with middle-class occupations. A fifth Mexicana, not part of the group, loses in a child custody case when the attorney defending her former husband presses buttons that evoke a barrage of profanity and rage while she was on the witness stand. The central character, the lawyer Andrea Fernandez (played by Evelina Fernandez, who wrote the script), is married to a Chicano, who in turn is flirting with an Anglo; the other three are unattached but eager for mates. By the time the film ends, the married Chicana gets a divorce and falls in love with Joseph Levinson, a Jewish attorney (played by Scott Bakula), the attorney defending the husband in the child custody case. The psychotherapist falls for a Mexican waiter at the restaurant, who courts and serenades her in typical Spanish style. The third Chicana marries a handsome Korean Lu (played by Andrew Kim), after he convinces his parents that he is not marrying down. The fourth has successfully given up sex during Lent and is ready to resume a manhunt. Even Andrea’s son is dating an African American girl. But the issues raised during the film place the plot into the background. We see how Latinas are so closely knit together that marriage outside the community can be experienced as a form of betrayal, even though the alienation from the community began when they sought jobs previously unavailable to them. Thus, we see the benefits of affirmative action and the guilt experienced by Latinas as they pass Latinos socioeconomically. Although some Latinos are viewed as inveterate Don Juans trying to prove their machismo, one is prone to excessive violence, one is a drug dealer, one dresses up in drag, and yet another is a UCLA professor (played by Cheech Marín). Prejudice directed toward Latinas and Latinos, thus, is not only from other groups (and at one point reference is made to the “stolen land,” which resulted when the United States militarily took over lands formerly part of México), but also comes from within. The rage felt by Latinas over being put down at home, at work, and even in hunting for a mate can only be assuaged by finding love, according to the film, but the quest for love turns out to be a battleground that occasionally overwhelms. Directed by José Luis Valenzuela (spouse of the lead actress), the film is both witty and serious, dealing with so many issues that rarely find cinematic exposure that the Political Film Society has nominated Luminarias as best film exposé of the year 2000. MH