2006 is starting off as the year of documentaries about illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. While several docs broaching the subject of border battles, fence jumping and the dangers immigrants face populate the cinematic landscape, “DeNADIE” takes a more distant look at illegal immigration. The film focuses on immigrants from Honduras (and other South and Central American locales) who brave the terrifying terrain of Mexico to find a better life in the U.S. Hats off to first time director Tin Dirdamal for picking an important subject that not many people are aware of. Dirdamal also manages to gain great access to many immigrants and follows their progress for as long as he can. The film is thought provoking and engrossing. However there are a few issues I had with the narrative here and more so, with the motivations of the characters.
One character we meet is Maria. A vibrant, determined woman, she says she has left Honduras to find a better life in the U.S. and to make enough money for her children to get an education. Her husband doesn’t work because he’s sick. Yet as the film unfolds, I couldn’t help but notice Maria has left her family in a total lurch as she makes her journey to the U.S. She’s the family breadwinner and now, her eldest daughter is forced to care for the kids and there’s no one making any money. Furthermore, Maria makes nary an attempt to talk to her family and keep them abreast of her progress and she also has absolutely no idea where she’s headed. I’ll come right out and say how I felt about all of this. It felt like Maria wanted to ditch her huge, overwhelming family and start a new life on her own. If that’s not the case, it’s the filmmaker’s job to be clearer in the portrait of his subject. Either way, it’s heartbreaking to see her miss her kids and even more heartbreaking when the film takes us to Honduras to meet her family.
Prior to this film, I had never even thought about the subject of people having to cross Mexico to get to the U.S. Between the language barrier and our governments ability to look the other way and make illegal immigrants nameless, faceless workers with little or no rights, I guess I just figured a majority of the illegal immigrants came directly from Mexico. Not true. In fact those who are not from Mexico face the toughest challenges as corrupt police and vicious gangs rape, beat and rob many immigrants. If they avoid those horrifying pitfalls, many of them elect to train hop and travel to the U.S. Yet train hopping is dangerous business and many, many people get ran over and lose lives or limbs. Perhaps even more frightening is the fact that nearly every person in Mexico knows the trains coming into the U.S. are not inspected for immigrants! Glad to see Homeland Security is such a priority.
Later in “De NADIE” we follow another gentleman named Jose who is attempting to get into the U.S. so he can get an important stomach operation. Yet again, a flag went up as I watched his journey. This guy has one of the nastiest ailments I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a special effect. It appears as if his entire inner stomach is on the outside of his body. Because of this painful malady, he can’t work. He can barely walk. Yet he has a sister in the U.S. and wants to come here to get treated. It just feels weird to me and sort of wrong. In fact, it makes me feel like one of those crazy right-wing radio hosts who demand we close the borders to everyone. In reality, I think immigrants deserve humane and dignified treatment and I also feel they’re crucial to our workforce. Yet the idea of people with serious medical issues wanting to come here solely for taxpayer aided help with no ability to work and thus pay for medical expenses makes me feel like we’re being taken advantage of. Then again, perhaps “DeNADIE” means to raise these questions and create a dialogue with true examples rather than random, faceless ones.
All in all “DeNADIE” is an important film that helps bring some understanding to the immigration situation. In Spanish “DeNADIE” means “no one” and the films explains that in the world, poor peoplr are considered no one’s or nobodies. Yet this idea extends to the poor in the U.S. and seeing these people struggle to get here only to be further marginalized is tough to watch. Then again, between this and the many other immigration docs, being poor here is better than being poor in South America.