Noam Osband’s documentary Adelante takes a look at the town of Norristown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, where St. Patrick’s Church has undergone a massive change in its congregation in the last two decades. As immigrants from Mexico have set up home in the area, the church, once strictly Irish-Catholic, has opened its doors to its new congregation, offering bilingual services and working with the new residents to keep their cultural celebrations and practices intact.
The film is predominantly an informational experience; it makes its points well and offers examples to personify and flesh out its story. But it also feels like it goes on too long, meandering down side streets that could easily be removed for a more succinct experience.
At least that’s the feeling that I had, for example about midway through, when the film started to give us the brief history of Father Murphy; it felt like a gear shift, like we were expanding a film that had run its course already. Likewise, while the story of María Juana and Hector’s wedding preparations are an interesting anecdote, that too felt drawn-out; there is little that happens along the way to heighten the interest of the audience. These, and other individual stories, tend to personalize the material, but they don’t really add any narrative momentum.
You might be thinking something along the lines of, “it’s a documentary, it doesn’t have to be dramatic or have a narrative” and, to an extent, you are correct. Plenty of informative and educational documentaries teach us about something and then move on. There is nothing wrong with creating a film that is informative and educational, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for everyone.
For me, had this been a fifteen-to-twenty minute short film, its less dramatic or narrative elements would’ve been more easily digested. As a short feature (or long short), though, I needed more conflict or a narrative arc or something else to keep me interested; once you get the main ideas, that the community has changed, the church has adapted and the life of an immigrant is difficult when balancing one’s old identity while embracing the new, what else is there to keep your attention besides more examples to belabor these points?
Life doesn’t always deliver those entertainment-friendly elements, however, so I understand if it wasn’t there for the filmmakers to capture, or if it was not the type of film they wanted to make. I respect the film that was made, and it is put together well, but it was not something that I was able to connect with beyond the academic.
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