America's involvement in Iraq has spawned a filmmakers, many of whom have crafted compelling films about US soldiers or Iraqi civilians. Now, audiences are beginning to be exposed to fictional movies which deal with the conflict and/or its aftermath. At the end of 2006, there was HOME OF THE BRAVE which attempted to be this generation's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (and didn't quite achieve its goal). At Sundance 2007, John Cusack earned kudos for his lead performance in GRACE IS GONE. These are but a few examples of what's out there.
G.I. JESÚS is an intriguing piece co-written and directed by Belgian-born Carl Colpaert, who amassed producing credits on some of the seminal films of the late 1980s and early 90s (such as MI VIDA LOCA, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, and HURLYBURLY). The movie is packed with great ideas -- some of which are barely touched on but are there for audiences to debate -- and yet it also comes off as clumsy and unformed. The movie is a mishmash, yet it proves to be compelling. The actors are uneven, sometimes great, sometimes amateurish, sometimes both -- and sometimes both in the same scene. There's a curious push and pull to the film that makes it compelling viewing and yet it still feels as if it needs another go-round in the editing room.
Jesús Feliciano (Joe Arquette) is a Mexican national living in the United States. He has enlisted and served in Iraq in order to gain resident status for himself and his Dominican-born wife Claudia (Patricia Mota). It's unclear if their seven-year-old daughter Marina (Telana Lynum) was born in the USA or not. Joe is flying back from Iraq in the company of his injured buddy Sean (Mark Cameron Wystrach) and is warmly greeted by Claudia when he arrives at the airport.
Once home, he becomes suspicious, though. There are expensive items like a plasma television and a cappuccino maker, courtesy of Claudia's co-worker Fred (Wes W. Thompson). Jesús harbors doubts about his wife despite her denials. He also has nightmares about his time in the Middle East and may in fact be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The filmmakers get subtle digs in at the lack of quality care that veterans receive, the way pharmaceutical companies encourage some doctors to test medications on human subjects (in this case military men), and at the leaders who led the charge for the invasion. (The latter is very subtle and accomplished via some paintings.)
Jesús also begins to see an imaginary Iraqi doctor named Mohammed (Maurizio Farhard) whom he shot to death along with the man's wife and young daughter. The pair (note the names) engage in heated debates and discussions over culpability and violence. It's also noteworthy to mention that Jesús first encounters this man is when he's at the gas pump.
A little more than half-way through the movie, Colpaert throws the audience a curve ball which is perhaps in homage to David Lynch. This twist leaves the audience wondering what is reality and what isn't. It's a bold move but one that might off put some audience members.
I would also suggest paying very close attention to the dialogue near the film's end because there are hints about exactly what has transpired. To be honest, I didn't "get" the exchange until I was speaking with a friend who had also attended the screening.
G.I. JESÚS isn't perfect but in its modest manner it is an ambitious and intriguing film. It is packed with topics ranging from immigration to the deployment of potentially ill men and women to the lack of proper care for veterans to the haunting effects of what men and women have done in Iraq. There's a lot to consider and Colpaert and his co-writers Deborah Setele and Deon Wilks deserve credit for attempting something so timely and so purposeful.
Rating: C+ MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality, nudity and violence Running time: 90 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review Two
Joe Arquette (in mirror) as Jesús Feliciano and Patricia Mota as Claudia Feliciano in G.I. JESÚS