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Review: The Milagro Beanfield War - 1370°C

Jun. 13th, 2007

11:29 pm - Review: The Milagro Beanfield War

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Before the film out at my local park, there was some recorded music on and my neighbors were having a hot-pepper eating contest. They ate two each of jalapeños and serrano peppers and then tried to see how many habaneros they could eat. The guy who won ate 9. This is a pretty big deal for Minnesotans, who have notoriously bland palates, and most of the contestants gave up after the serranos.



The Milagro Beanfield War is set in 1980s New Mexico in an impoverished, northern, fictional town called Milagro. The government has taken away the town's right to use their local stream for irrigation purposes, and has made a back-room deal with a developer to turn the entire town and surrounding area into a fancy-schmancy resort. As a result, all of the crops have dried up, most of the farmers have sold their land to the government, nearly everyone's out of work, and the town is dying.

When one of these out-of-work residents, Jose, accidentally breaks a valve blocking the water to his father's old bean field, he decides to ignore the laws and replant the beans. Chaos ensues as the townfolk decide whether they support Jose's efforts and the Forest Service police force tries to figure out how to stop him while keeping the matter out of the public eye. In the end, the beans survive to be harvested, and the mayor pulls his support for the deal with the developers.

Complete with heartfelt ending, The Milagro Beanfield War delivers on its opening implications that David will, yet again, best Goliath while managing to maintain a tense and interesting atmosphere. It addresses very serious and pertinent issues about water rights, racial strife, development problems, and bureaucratic interference while maintaining a good sense of humour and a fairly accurate portrayal of small-village New Mexican life. Thoroughly enjoyable was the appearance of Christopher Walken as the Big Bad, the veritable menagerie of quirky older native New Mexican as mostly comic relief (one of them buys bullets with food stamps), and a reliance on magical realism to move the plot along. To its immense credit, the film had not even a shred of love-story to distract from the actual plot. It's also a gold-mine for quotes: "this posse couldn't find itself!," "those guys vote six, seven times a piece," and one that went along the lines of "the scorpions will nest in your shoes if they leave them there, and be sure not to lean back too far on the seat in the outhouse, or let your testicles dangle up under the wooden seat...black widows" among them.

It was a bit too heavy handed on the racial front--literally all of the evil developers, government employees, and forest service folk were of the "fat cat whitey" variety while the locals often came off as ignorant and intolerant--but this was somewhat mitigated by the white Sociology grad student and the estranged Lawyer who help Milagro's people in their cause and the spunky, bright, activist native New Mexican woman who rallies her people at the end. We are also left to wonder what exactly the town's victory will bring it; the beanfield is likely too small to yield anything but a symbolic crop, but the movie clearly ends on an upbeat note.

All-in-all, the film was cute and well-done. As one who almost always positively loathes happy "everything worked out" endings, I very much enjoyed The Milagro Beanfield War. I especially recommend it to the New Mexico-dwellers among you; you'll feel happily at home in the film's setting as well as recognise issues that are still relevant in the state today.


I can't wait until next Wednesday (Waiting for Guffman!!). My neighborhood association and the local artist co-op (in the sense of work-space and community, not in the sense of housing or food buying) are putting these films on, and they promise silly activities and decent music as well as the films. Perhaps i'll even meet one of my neighbors.

Comments:

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From:pixink
Date:June 14th, 2007 01:29 pm (UTC)
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I love Waiting For Guffman! <3<3
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From:7ghent
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Er, they weren't Mexican-Americans.
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From:ferrousoxide
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
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No? They were Mexican immigrants legally living in New Mexico in the 1980s, doesn't that make them Mexican-American? Or were they not considered citizens? It wasn't really addressed in the film, so i didn't think about it.
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From:7ghent
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
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They weren't actually Mexican immigrants, they were native New Mexicans whose families emigrated from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, when New Mexico was New Spain. The book/movie is loosely based on actual events and characters, and although the movie inaccurately portrays some of the people involved as specifically Mexican, there really weren't any Mexicans in Truchas, NM at the time. Most of the actors cast locally were members of my dad's family, actually, and they'd be extremely offended to be called Mexican-Americans, as the vast majority of them historically never considered themselves Mexican citizens.
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From:ferrousoxide
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Ah, i see. The movie was totally ambiguous about that, and i don't know enough about the history to supply the details myself. So, the next question is, if i'm going to correct my review above, what do i change Mexican American to?
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From:7ghent
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:30 pm (UTC)
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You could call them "locals" or "New Mexicans" even "Hispanics" if it's really important to point out the racial thing. Just never call a native New Mexican a Mexican-American, that's an excellent way to really piss us off.
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From:ferrousoxide
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
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I went for native New Mexican and locals. Thanks for letting me know, i hate being clueless about these sorts of things.
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From:7ghent
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
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Sure thing. It's a common mistake, just thought that as a sometime resident of the state you should be aware.
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From:ferrousoxide
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I did know in a general sense, but the film did seem to be, as you said above, explicitly painting them as Mexicans at times. Thinking back, i should have been clued in by the fact that the main female character said that her family had been living in that town for several hundred years.
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From:7ghent
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:59 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, for some reason they fucked up costuming really badly.
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From:gorey_ballerina
Date:June 14th, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)
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Hoo boy. I'm only HALF Hispanic (well, both of my parents are, too), and my grandmother on my father's side, as well as my mother, get REALLY offended when someone asks if they have MEXICAN heritage.

I am a little less bothered by the whole thing. If my ancestors had settled far enough south, I WOULD be part Mexican. ;)
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From:gorey_ballerina
Date:June 14th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
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I went to grade school with a girl who was in The Milagro Beanfield War. She played Robert Redford's daughter.
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From:gorey_ballerina
Date:June 14th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)
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er, his CHARACTER's daughter, of course
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From:ferrousoxide
Date:June 14th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
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Wow. I feel inattentive. I don't even remember Robert Redford's character having a daughter.
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From:gorey_ballerina
Date:June 14th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC)
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Eh, she's BARELY in the movie. I was in third grade with the girl. She was really excited about it (of course) and so when the movie came out on video (I missed the theater release, if it had much of one at all), I was really excited to watch, and was really disappointed when she was hardly in it.

My mom explained the whole "cutting room floor" concept to me at that time. That's why I remember the whole thing so well. I remember thinking

"you mean they (editors) can take out entire PIECES OF THE MOVIE!?!?!?!"
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