Sleep Dealer

Opens April 2009

Sundance Film Fest 2008 (Dramatic Competition)–A layer of special effects, impressive done on a very low budget, camouflages a simplistic and naive immigrants' story in Alex Rivera's sci-fi-thriller “Sleep Dealer.” The film deservedly won the Alfred Sloane Award for movies using science and technology, but inexplicably was cited by the Dramatic Jury with the writing award, since the characterizations and dialogue are the weakest aspect of the movie.

Rivera, who's also the co-writer (with David Riker), sets his feature debut in the near future,where the U.S. has been sealed off from Mexico yet Mexican workers do all the hard labor through technology in what could be described as modern sweatshops.

The first reel is rather engaging, and since it begins with special effects, one admires the tale's ambitions, considering its small budget (rumored to be less than $2 million) and that fact that the whole film was conceived, as the director himself noted in his introduction, in his backyard.

Despite innovative format and blend of genres, the film's commercial prospects are iffy, due to the fact that the plot is not particularly involving, and also the reality of a movie that's really foreign-language. With the exception of few scenes in English, the dialogue is in Spanish.

Using relevant political issues, such as the current, messy US immigration policy, and borrowing from “Chinatown” the issue of scarce water supply (and how crucial it is for agricultural communities), and from other sci-fi the notions of increased military interventions and corporate control, Rivera tries to weave an engaging, two-generational tale of a conservative Mexican father (Jacob Vargas), intimately associated with the past and committed to the land, and his future-oriented, more ambitious son, Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Pena).

When the saga begins, Memo lives with his parents and brother in the small, remote and provincial village of Santa Ana del Rio in Mexico. The town's water supply has been taken over by a large, anonymous and greedy American (what else) company, which has built a securely protected dam that has not only destroyed the beautiful vistas but also forever changed the lifestyle of its residents, who have to carry water in buckets from miles away.

Restless and bored in the manner of most young protagonists in American films, Memo, a techno geek, aspires for a different life, one that will take him places, specifically allow him to work in high-tech factories in the north (offering yet another link to Gregory Nava's 1984 tale, “El Norte”).

One night, alone in his room, Memo gains access to a homemade radio intercept, through which he eavesdrops on various conversations, private and public, one dealing with secretive operations of the military forces that patrol the region in an effort to protect the invaluable dam from all kinds of terrorists.

However, predictably, those same forces have located his intercept, thus labeling Memo a threatening presence. While he and his brother are away for the day, the house is bombed and his father is gunned down by a fighter plane that's remotely controlled by Rudy Ramirez, who, as we find out later, is a Mexican-American living in the U.S.

The workings of a revenge saga begin to unfold, with a guilty yet determined Memo vowing to disclose the source of evil and do something about it. The film picks some color and momentum, when Memo relocates to the popular but seedy and sleazy border town of Tijuana; streets are populated by hustlers, vendors, and old, blind men.

Not neglecting the romantic angle, Rivera arranges for Memo to meet an attractive if mysterious young woman, Luz (Leonor Varela), who claims to be a journalist, and promises to help him get illegal nodes implanted in his body, which will connect him to the digital global network. Unbeknownst to him, Luz also uploads his personal story onto the Internet via her own nodes. Soon, a man buys her memory and is eager to buy some more stories about Memo.

Remaining questions of when and how Memo will reveal Luz's true identity, avenge his father's death, and reconcile past, present, and future, are all resolved naively in the last reel of the film, by which time level of engagement has decreased considerably.

Credits

A Starlight Film Financing presentation of a Likely Story production, in association with This Is That.
Produced by Anthony Bregman.
Executive producers, Guy Naggar, Peter Klimt.
Directed, edited by Alex Rivera.
Screenplay, Rivera, David Riker.
Camera: Lisa Rinzler.
Music, Tomandandy; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein.
Production designer: Miguel Angel Alvarez.
Art director: Luis Figueroa.
Costume designer: Adela Cortazar.

Spanish, English dialogue.
Running time: 89 Minutes.

Cast

Memo (Luis Fernando Pena)
Luz (Leonor Varela)
Memo's Father (Jacob Vargas)