Alambrista!

September 8, 2008

Once in a while even the most jaded film buff stumbles onto something unexpected: a forgotten classic from a director no one’s ever heard of. Alambrista! is exactly that kind of movie. Released in 1977, it won the Camera D’Or at Cannes but tanked at the box office and disappeared without a trace.  Its director, Robert M. Young, is similarly obscure, one of those Hollywood working stiffs who’s best known, if at all, as the answer to that fiendish, final-round movie trivia question that no one ever gets right.

Alambrista! is the deceptively simple tale of a young Mexican farmer who heads north to work illegally in the USA. The title comes from the Mexican slang term for border-crosser – literally “wire walker” or “tightrope walker” – which is in itself an interesting flip-side to better-known terms like “wetback.” Immigration wasn’t exactly a hot topic in 1977, which, along with the fact that the film is mostly in Spanish with English subtitles, probably explains why no one went to see it the first time around. Which is a damned shame, because this is one hell of a movie.

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