Before you get all Spanish teacher on me, I know that I am missing several accents and an upside down question mark in my tag line. I’m just too lazy to try to figure out how to do that in Word. I don’t feel bad because the movie I’m about to talk about was a little lazy as well (good segway, right?).
In case you hadn’t figured it out by my introduction, “Sleep Dealer” is a foreign film, Mexican to be exact. I came across it last year when I was searching for movies to watch and it was listed as a science fiction film. Prior to this, the last foreign film I watched was “Pan’s Labyrinth,” so you can see what it takes to get me to watch a movie that I also have to read. The odd thing about “Sleep Dealer” was that it also contained a substantial amount of spoken and written English as well. This, among other things, is what got me thinking that the makers of this film were a little on the lazy side.
The film is set in a near future where water is tightly controlled in Mexico and is expensive for people to buy. In addition, there is nearly no immigration, legal or illegal, to the United States. In order to continue using cheap Mexican labor, a virtual-reality-type system is used to employ Mexicans in which they control robots to perform undesirable jobs in the U.S.A. It’s an interesting concept, but doesn’t matter much to the overall plot. This is also where the movie starts to go wrong as the term “Sleep Dealer” refers to the factories where the workers go every day to perform their jobs. Considering how little it was featured, they probably shouldn’t have titled the film that way. Though, “El Terroristas de Agua” wouldn’t have made much sense either.
The film is actually about a young Mexican (Memo) whose father is killed when he is mistaken for a water terrorist. Memo moves to Tijuana and gets a job in a sleep dealer factory. Along the way, he meets a writer (Luz), who combines her memories with some narration and downloads them to the internet for people to purchase. Rudy, the pilot of the drone, subscribes to Luz’s stories and eventually learns of his mistake. He seeks out Memo to apologize and the three of them hatch a plan to destroy the dam near Memo’s family’s home that took their water and nearly ruined their farm.
As you can see, it’s a very safe and well-worn plot that struggles to keep the viewer interested. The film is also so short, ninety minutes, that any development or exploration of characters or concepts is sacrificed for the next transition. Even the relationship between Memo and Luz is hurried, giving us no time to believe in any sincerity.
Amazingly, this film won two Sundance Film Festival Awards, among other random indie-film festival awards. I don’t know what other films were considered, but they must have been real crap if they lost to this one. I don’t want to bludgeon the filmmakers too hard for this movie, given their budget was probably equivalent to an episode of “Dora the Explorer,” but this was not worthy of awards, especially a screenwriting award.
In the end, the viewer is left with no sense of satisfaction because we simply don’t care about the characters’ plights. Their struggles are rendered insignificant by pace of the story and lack of development. The only thing left for the viewer to be curious about is why a Mexican made movie has so much English in it. Now where is that damn library?
Rating: Ask for 1937 pesos back. I have no idea how much that is in dollars, but I couldn’t resist.