Ron Canada

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.

Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.

Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.

As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.

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