Program Notes: Under the Same Moon (2007)

A hard-nosed critic can find plenty to pick apart in Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon (2007).

That is, if he can suppress his desperate need to blubber like a girly-man.

If the storytelling is sometimes manipulative, the film's execution is exemplary. Director Riggen (a native of Guadalajara, Mexico) aims for the emotionally true moment, which helps offset the film’s periodic forays into shameless sentimentality.

But, then, how are you not gonna get sentimental when your subject is a 9-year-old Mexican boy who journeys solo to the U.S. to find the mother he hasn’t seen for half his lifetime?

Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) lives across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Four years ago his single mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), left to enter the U.S. illegally. Now she’s in the LA area, housekeeping for two families, sending money back home and trying to avoid the INS (one of the more troubling and intriguing aspects of the story is the perpetual paranoia that besets an illegal immigrant).

The Golden Door film series complements the exhibit Emma Lazarus: Voice of Liberty, Voice of Conscience, now on display at the Central Library.

Film Screening:
Under the Same Moon (2007)
Saturday, Sept. 10 at 1:30 p.m.
Central Library

Related Event:
Esther Schor: Emma Lazarus
Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

Carlitos has been left in the care of his grandmother. But when she she dies the boy finds himself at the mercy of less doting authority figures. His answer: Hit the road and find Mama.

Under the Same Moon — to date the biggest Spanish-language hit in U.S. box office history — examines some familiar themes about illegal immigration, but does so through a child’s eyes. Along the way our brave little hero learns some hard truths about the immigrant’s lot and discovers the best and worst in human nature.

We’re talking sex slavery, undocumented farm labor — even a trip to a box store loading dock in Texas where our little detective locates the father he’s never seen.

If Charles Dickens were Mexican and living in the early 21st century, this is what he’d be writing about.

Ligiah Villalobo’s script wisely divides the screen time between Carlito’s journey and the plight of his Mama. Rosario both loves and fears her new country; one of her employers is a bitter woman who takes her misery out on the hired help.

Rosario now faces some hard choices. She could improve her life and make a home for Carlito if she’d only wed that sweet young security guard (Gabriel Porras) who already has his citizenship and is smitten with her.

But that would be a marriage of convenience...and isn’t coming to America about putting all those old conventions behind us?

The on-screen bond between Castillo’s Rosario and Alonso’s Carnito is so incredibly strong that it’s not until the film is over and you’re driving home that you realize that THEY NEVER APPEAR IN THE SAME FRAME OF FILM!!!

The bilingual Alonso (he played the son of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2005's The Legend of Zorro) is a terrific young actor who captures Carlitos' winning blend of intelligence, resourcefulness and determination without getting too cute.

Meanwhile Del Castillo's Rosario is an aching portrait of a woman who has put everything else aside to do the best by her son. She gives a luminous, sympathetic and quietly erotic performance here...a far cry from some of her other recent characters (i.e., a ruthless Mexican political operative in Showtime's Weeds and a trafficker in underage girls in 2007’s Trade. She’s best known for playing Leticia in Muchachitas, a soap opera hugely popular throughout Latin America.

Moon is the first feature by Riggen, who studied film at Columbia University. She recently completed the film Lemonade Mouth for the Disney Channel.

See Bob's general introduction to The Golden Door film series.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.