SXSW Film Review: 'Cesar Chavez'

Diego Luna's biopic is a true hero's journey

César Chávez once said, “The truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.”

That may be a winning tactic for social change – the same approach was used by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – but it doesn’t play well in Hollywood. So director Diego Luna’s biopic of the legendary Chicano labor organizer comes to us as a small miracle, a true hero’s journey that inspires without reaching for larger-than-life emotional crescendos. The result is a touching record of a key chapter in Chávez’s life – a cinematic corrido chronicling the successful effort to unionize agricultural workers in California vineyards in the 1960s.

The film deserves comparisons to classic film depictions of labor movements in America like Norma Rae and Matewan. For Hispanic audiences, however, César Chávez will stand alone. Shooting in Northern Mexico, Luna’s camera evokes the Central Valley’s dust, sun, and endless agricultural partitions with flair. John Malkovich creates a memorably fitting antagonist to Chavez, and Rosario Dawson’s Dolores Huerta deserves a lead role in a movie of her own. But this time the star is Michael Peña, capturing our loyalty, as Chávez himself would have, with steadiness and subtle charm.


Cesar Chavez


Narrative Spotlight, North American Premiere
Monday, March 10, 6pm, Paramount

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

READ MORE
More South by Southwest
SXSW Expands SouthBites Programming
SXSW Expands SouthBites Programming
David Chang announced as featured speaker

Brandon Watson, Sept. 30, 2014

Two More Acquisitions for SXSW Alumni
Two More Acquisitions for SXSW Alumni
'Honeymoon' and 'Thank You a Lot' picked up

Monica Riese, March 28, 2014

More SXSW
Plans for New SXSW HQ Unveiled at Groundbreaking
Plans for New SXSW HQ Unveiled at Groundbreaking
The 145,000-square-foot building is set to open in 2019

Reanna Zuniga, Nov. 16, 2017

Hey, SXSW, How You Doin'?
Hey, SXSW, How You Doin'?
Tech pioneers, music innovators, and a daytime fave added

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 9, 2017

More by Michael Agresta
Obamacare Lives!
Obamacare Lives!
Navigating ACA open enrollment after the Trump-ocalypse

Nov. 17, 2017

Person to Person
The New York ensemble subgenre gets some fresh air

Aug. 11, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2014, SXSW Film 2014, Cesar Chavez, Diego Luna, Rosario Dawson, John Malkovich, Michael Peña, review

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)