Combustible Celluloid
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With: Carmelo Muniz Sanchez, Arturo Arias
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Mark Becker
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English, Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 80
Date: 01/19/2007

Romántico (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Musica Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mark Becker's Romantico is my favorite documentary in well over a year, simply because it's about a person rather than an issue. It begins in San Francisco's Mission District as Carmelo Muñiz Sanchez, a mariachi, serenades the customers at the neighborhood's various yummy tacquerias. We learn that Carmelo makes about $100 a night, a portion of which he sends back to his wife and two daughters in Mexico. After a while he misses them too much and returns, but work isn't so plentiful or lucrative there. Worse, his chances of returning to the U.S. are slim, at best.

His first trip to the U.S., we learn, was taken illegally and involved walking through the desert for three days; the chubby, ailing but impossibly genial Carmelo doubts he could survive the same trip again. Little dramas among his family and friends rise and fall away again, as Carmelo's untamable spirit makes the best of everything. Becker's camera records remarkably few talking head interviews, and even when he does resort to them, they feel as unobtrusive and free-flowing as the rest of the film. In the end, it's Carmelo, his warm presence and his sad eyes, that we remember.

Kino's new DVD presents an interview with San Francisco director Mark Becker (13 minutes), a Q&A at New York's IFC Center (5 minutes), additional scenes ("Salvatierra Speaks," 6 minutes, and "Carmelo's Hometown Tour," 3 minutes), a theatrical trailer, and stills. The English subtitles are optional and the 1.85:1 transfer is anamorphic. Carmelo's music sounds pretty good on my home speakers!

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