Real Women Have Curves
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Real Women Have Curves

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Some of my favorite films have come to my attention completely by accident. Usually it happens when I’m surfing the channels late at night, I notice a scene that catches my attention and I have to get the whole film. In the case of ‘Real Women have Curves’, the film was sent to me as a preview, it opens later this month in theaters. I had read that the film swept the Sundance Film Festival so I was interested in viewing it. I have to say at the beginning of this review I was greatly pleased this movie crossed my path. This is basically a coming of age film that is centered on Ana (America Ferrera), an intelligent girl who just graduated high school. She has hopes, dreams and ambition. She also has a mother (Lupe Ontiveros) who is quick to remind her that Ana is overweight and can only look forward to a life in a factory until she marries. There is a strange but very familiar dynamic between Ana and her mother. Her mother Carmen tells her husband that since she had to work at 13 it’s Ana’s turn to suffer and work. While most parents naturally want their children to have a better life Carmen wants her youngest child to follow in the same difficult footsteps she had to tread. Ana is torn between a genuine love for her family and her need to succeed on her own. When offered a full scholarship to Columbia Carmen forces Ana to work in her sister Estela’s (Ingrid Oliu) dress factory. Carmen is not one to hide the fact that she is happy to see that her daughter will not have more than see did. Carmen is also a hypochondriac. She revels in expressing her ‘pain’ to all around. She even goes so far as to tell Ana that she is pregnant (it’s actually menopause). With all of this going on around her Ana remains strong in her convictions. She secretly dates an Anglo boy from high school, encourages her sister Estela to fight to keep the factory open and continues to pursue her admission to college.  

What makes a film like this is the ability of the cast to act as if they are not acting. That is to say they help the audience feel like they are watching real people in situations that they can readily identify with. This is the case with the wonderful actors in this case. Ferrera is perfectly cast as Ana. She is proud, confident and comfortable with her self and her appearance. She brings Ana to life, not in any form of perfection but as a young woman on the verge of life who knows what she wants but still has internal conflicts. This is her fledgling effort and it shows that she has great talent and potential that makes me anxious to see her next film. Ms Ontiveros has been around the big screen and TV for some time. She is professional and knows how to work a scene. As the long (self inflicted) suffering Carmen she shows love for her daughter but a need to keep her close as if she can hold on to her life by avoiding change. What I found so endearing with this film is the way a young woman’s self esteem could be based upon her internal acceptance of herself not upon the demands of fashion motivated society. Ana looks at a size seven dress, her mother needles her that she could never fit into it and Ana responds that she considers her mind and heart to be more important that her dress size. Here is a young woman that ins literally comfortable in her own skin. 

Ferrera may be new to the craft of acting but I hope she hones her skills and graces us with many more performances. She carries the role of Ana to a realistic presentation of someone that is divided between a sense of family and the need to spread her own wings. Rather than taking the usual coming of age film, everything will work out approach, she helps the audience accept that even though loose ends are left we somehow know Ana will be okay. Otiveros as the mother is wonderfully wicked. Not wicked in the Disney evil stepmother sense but as someone whose own life has fallen short and now she wants to make sure that her youngest daughter knows firsthand what she went through. As the mother she is caustic to almost everyone around yet there is a core tenderness that is displayed with her husband. The attention seeking behavior that bizarrely includes an imagined pregnancy does not come across as merely a plot device. Due to the acting ability of Ms Otiveros it seems to read as a real cry for help from this worried and crushed soul.

 Directing this gem is Patricia Cardoso. As a Latina she is able to make a movie that those of us that did not grow up in such a family or environment can appreciate. I think that any person watching this film will identify with the characters in it. This personification may be from personal viewpoints or through those of our mothers, sisters or wives. Ms Cardoso garnered the Audience Award at the 2002 Sundance festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Award. Her style here is gentle, it flows along seemingly without focus, just like life. While Ana is the focus of the film we see the influence the other people in her life make. How she comes to admire her sister for operating the factory that supports several families. How her mother and father work hard to make sure she has the opportunity to meet her dreams. Cardoso also performs well with her set ups for the camera. A moment lingering on the sewing machines, a shadow on the face of Ana or a crowded dining room table. She brings us all into a world where family matters, and actually influenced how the children turned out. 

The DVD of this film was a little disappointing. It was presented in full screen mode. The tape I received from HBO just before its theatrical release was in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and was far better than the cropped version here. The audio was remixed to Dolby 5.1 although this film will not give your rear speakers and sub woofer much of a work out. The surround sound is mostly for ambience not effects as is befitting of a film like this. I did greatly enjoy the commentary track provided. It is rare that a little independent film gives the director a chance to speak about the production of her work. The video was extremely clear and free from any discernable artifacts. This film deserves your viewing. I am very sure that it will bring an emotional connection to you, the audience that will keep you thinking after the lights come up. I really hope there is a follow up to this story. I want to know how Ana turned out.

Posted 4/10/03

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