Friday, August 27, 2010

Sleep Dealer (2008)
USA/ MEXICO --- science fiction

Dir: Alex Rivera

As of 2010, illegal immigration has become and remains a major hot button issue. The collapse of the American economy has ensured what has always been overlooked, that the steady flux of immigrants into the country has got to have more and more beaucratic red tape. It would be one thing if the system worked, but somewhere down the line, Congress has made it there business to look the other way, for reasons that simply point to greasing their palms with the likes of lobbyists and big business. They make for bad bedfellows, always has, and always will. Science Fiction films have always been a lens into the underlying psyche of what society knows and yet cannot directly express, so taking it in the metaphoric realm of telling a fictional tale, is always a great way of getting the point across. I aliken it to something like Flintstone vitamins or cherry-flavored NyQuil of the mind. But whatever.

Most of these stories have been told from the somewhat askewed perspective of caucasian filmmakers getting their points across. Not that there's anything wrong with that if they're good at it, because usually they're underdogs who have to fight just to say what they deem is righteous as well. Often times to their own punishments. It is however a rare occassion when you get that lens of social commentary from someone who's very familiar and in the thick of the subject matter. Case in point, with Documentarian Alex Rivera who has taken the sci-fi storytelling to show what the world is experiencing right now, and not really doing it with kid gloves.

Rivera's debut film, "Sleep Dealer", follows Memo Cruz; a farmboy of sorts who lives a rural life with his family in Santa Ana Del Rio in Oaxaca, Mexico. We learn fairly quickly the near future, is no utopia, as all the predictions of the past about big business and government merging into one is also evident here. In this film's world "They" control the water and have it dammed up and protected by electric fences equipped with cash deposit machines and heavily-armed cameras. Memo also has a hobby as a hacker, who goes into some sort of social networking sites via radio waves. As he dreams of migrating into a better life by way of getting "nodes" (more on this later) like some of the conversations he hears, he also has to evade military drones that fly overhead and destroy anything they deem suspicious activity. Unfortunately one day, they do pick up his signal, and while he and his brother are away from home, the drones return to the farm and destroy it; killing his father.

The pilot, who is of Latino descent and from a military family, has been seen in recruitment commercials earlier in the film. They show that there's a better life in becoming a virtual worker, which is this future's immigrant labor workforce, who physically stay in their country and remotely work through robots. More in depth info is available here on this website created for the film:

At this point, when this kill goes down, we see the pilot's remorse. However, it forces Memo to leave for Tijuana and seek this remote labor. He runs into a young woman on his way named Luz, who calls herself a writer, but is more or less a blogger on the the TruNode internet. They discuss the process of getting "nodes", and she explains to him he will need to find a "coyotek" in the city to get the "nodes", then find work from there. After he tells her his story of just why he's forced to look for work in the border town of Tijuana, she goes home and uploads/transcribes her own memories of their conversation to the network. She discovers the next day that his story is pretty popular, and she tracks him down for a follow-up, and good thing too, since he's got no other choice after being robbed of what savings he had.

The two grow into a relationship later when she tracks him down for more stories that have become successful, and she helps him get hooked up with nodes. In a serenpidtous moment, the remorseful pilot finds her story, and realizes he's the man responsible for the murder of Memo's father, seeks him down to beg for his forgiveness. This leads to a climatic finale, in which the trio join forces to disrupt the system. All in all, "Sleep Dealer" is an impressive science fiction entry, despite its low budget. It successfully gets its point across, without being too preachy, or for that matter seemingly taking one side or the other on the issue of illegal immigration. Like many parables, it states the facts and leaves you to decide. If done right, you get immediately, for as many of these tales go, the mirror will also show you what you need to see.