Someone Else's America
Directed by Goran Paskaljevic. Starring Tom Conti, Miki Manojlovic, Maria Casares, Zorka Manojlovic, Sergej Trifunovic. (1995, R, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 5, 1996
This realistic yet fanciful story about the immigrant experience in Brooklyn is not quite the usual portrait of America as the great melting pot. Neither is it a story about fractious ethnic relations in the land of opportunity, nor a story about assimilation in the land of plenty. Someone Else's America is a story about people and the paths they take through this world, about looking for the things that give life significance, about discovering that home is the place where your heart resides. Alonso (Tom Conti) and Bayo (Miki Manojlovic) are odd companions. Alonso is a Spanish immigrant who owns a rundown neighborhood bar in Brooklyn where he lives with his mother (played by Maria Casares, who is best remembered for her work in the French post-war classic Children of Paradise and here makes her first screen appearance in decades). He also lets a room to Bayo, a recent immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, in exchange for his help around the place. Always squabbling like an old married couple, they are, nevertheless, the best of friends. Bayo's children and elderly mother arrive in the U.S. unannounced and lend tragedy and complications to the story. Someone Else's America is at its best when it's at its most whimsical. For example, when Alonso's blind mother longs to return to the old country, the men build a likeness of her village well in their Brooklyn courtyard and somehow convince the woman that she's returned home. Or there's the wedding celebration for Bayo's son and his Chinese-American bride that's highlighted by its flamenco music, Yugoslavian repast, and Chinese costumes. Or the beautifully composed image of the New York City skyline in the background mocked by cemetery headstones poking up in the foreground. Indeed, the movie is a loving fabrication that mixes location camerawork with studio setwork. Conti and Miki Manojlovic also convey much with their soulful faces and subtle nuances. Someone Else's America is a mixed pleasure, switching at will between the realistic and the fanciful. Consequently, it's sometimes uneven and jumpy. Yet this multi-national production creates characters and situations that manage to carve a memorable niche in the American geography.