“Entre Nos” presents a fairly conventional view of the American immigrant experience. But the intimacy in its portrayal of co-writer and star Paola Mendoza’s bitter arrival in New York is striking, as is the poignancy in her portrayal of her mother, a classic “against the odds” heroine in a story about playing the hand life deals you.
Appropriately enough, the film begins with a card game in their Queens apartment, with their dad (Andres Munar) and his brother (Eddie Martinez) playing, and little son Gabi (Sebastian Villada) sitting in.
“Watch out for your Pop,” mom Mariana (Mendoza) warns (in Spanish with English subtitles). “He’s a cheat.”
Any good natured laughing that crack off has the edge of exchanged half-dirty looks. Dad just brought them here. Before that, he moved them around Colombia a few times.
And before you know it, Antonio is explaining away his latest “got home late” with “I was celebrating. I got a new job. In Miami.” The twist this time? “I’m going alone.”
Whatever Mariana is thinking about his promises to “make some money,” then he’ll send for her, their little girl Andrea (Laura Montana) and Gabi, we know better. This latest move is his way of bailing out altogether.
If there’s an overarching flaw to “Entre Nos,” it’s that it’s bigger plot points are all that predictable, that obvious. Everything about the movie is given away in the foreshadowing in that opening scene — the personalities of the kids, Mom’s one special skill, Dad’s feckless, faithless nature.
What’s arresting here is the details we’re shown in the downward spiral of their experience. The husband’s brother takes some responsibility just long enough to change addresses himself. Their bus tickets to Miami are just out of reach, not that they’d be sure to even find Antonio if they did.
Mariana has no support system, no marketable skills, no family to call on for help. None of them has been there long enough to grasp English, although Gabi, 8 and left to babysit his sister all by himself as Mom job hunts, has mastered American profanity, which he teaches to little Andrea.
No steady job means they lose their apartment. Homeless and totally broke means they start collecting deposit recyclables just to eat, sleeping in the park or wherever they can find cardboard.
The crises pile up, the kids act out, the despair grows. Even those who might help (indie cinema icon Sarita Choudhury plays the manager of a cheap motel) can’t break New York character and make themselves generous.
And yet we sense that this mother will do what mothers do — persevere. She can’t give up, even as layers of her pride and sense of self-worth are stripped away. Because that jerk dumped her with two kids and no money in one of the most expensive cities in the hemisphere.
Mendoza, playing a version of her own mother, doesn’t let the woman come off as a saint. She is naive, trusting and she has a temper. She has reason to expect better. But she can’t wallow in that.
The lack of big twists or even deeper dives into despair park this film in the area of cinematic comfort food. But “Entres Nos (Between Us)” like the characters it portrays, wins you over with its warmth, its pluck and its optimism, that thin hope that brings so many here. Tomorrow things could get better.
MPA Rating: unrated, adult themes, profanity
Cast: Paola Mendoza, Sebastian Villada, Laura Montana and Sarita Chouduury
Credits: Scripted and directed by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza. An IndiePix/Film Movement Plus release.
Running time: 1:20