Following a hardworking, goodhearted man as life beats the hell out of him, this documentary is moving almost to the point of exploitation. The film’s subject, Carmelo Sánchez, works illegally in San Francisco, washing cars by day and singing ballads at night. When his mother falls ill, however, Carmelo must return to Mexico, where he is torn between joy at seeing his family and despair at the absolute poverty they must live in when he is not in America. Throw in an alcoholic friend, medical problems, and a funeral, and the movie becomes rough stuff to watch. Becker should be applauded for not flinching during the three and a half years he took to shoot the film—still, watching Carmelo embracing his near-deaf, near-blind, dying legless mother raises the question of just how closely we need to see another person’s pain before it’s time to look away.

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