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Volume 5, Number 44

This Week's Reviews:  Casa de los Babys.

This Week's Omissions:  Brother Bear, In the Cut, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.

John Sayles

Marcia Gay Harden
Mary Steenburgen
Lili Taylor
Susan Lynch
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Daryl Hannah
Rita Moreno
Vanessa Marinez

Release: Date

Casa de los Babys


John Sayles’ finger on the pulse of cultural clashes throughout America makes its second trip below the equator with Casa de los Babys. But this is not another story of guerilla warfare and the place between humanity and violence as was found in his devastating Men with Guns. The story he’s following in Casa de los Babys is a little more subdued but no less distressing for those involved.

In this case, the Americans visiting an unnamed South American country are all looking to adopt a child to take back with them. It seems that the channels for adoption have failed them in the states, so they have gone to the child market found in this country. Their wait can last months, as they are moved from the hotel front desk to lawyers to the agency and back to the front desk, all the while praying to the officials that this is the time they might get their child. They just want a baby, and a return flight.

The reason they want to leave is clear: this, like almost all of Latin America, is a place of great poverty in which children are forced to forge for food from tourists, but only get gifts like children’s books that are well-meaning if useless (they, of course, do not know how to read). The women aren’t heartless -- well, with one exception -- but they cannot completely comprehend a land of paucity when all they’ve ever known is the land of plenty.

They range from bitchy (Harden’s self-important Nan) to demure (Hannah’s muscular Skipper). Their common interests are mostly limited to their American sensibilities. The exception is Eileen (Lynch), an Irish émigré who must do this trip as frugally as possible, much to the chagrin and shock of her all-American cohorts. She is willing to recognize the impoverished locals but does so without fully understanding what this poverty means. She is, after all, still a Westerner of the Northern Hemisphere. In her world, a missed lunch is saving money; for them, a missed day of eating is common.

Casa de los Babys isn’t an especially revelatory film for Sayles, whose best films are often built as much on his understanding of setting as they are in his abilities to experiment with narrative storytelling. His career is filled with amazing works, none of which will probably ever compare to Limbo, a film so perfect that it’s unmistakable plot hole serves as one of the most astonishing (and brave) actions by a filmmaker in the last thirty years.

He brings one of his Limbo stars to the cast of Casa de los Babys but chooses to use her as the most likable, deepest character in the ensemble. Playing Asunción, a maid at the hotel, Vanessa Martinez gives an astonishing performance that is unbelievably simple in its demeanor but unquestionably profound in its emotions. She shares the film’s best scene with Eileen in which the two comment on their hopes, dreams, and regrets. Each one has her own story about a baby, stories so close to them that one almost feels like we are invading in their privacy by overhearing this.

But, as Sayles so perfectly establishes, these are women who share common feelings but are of completely different worlds. Their stories share a love of the children they had or aspire to have, their bond couldn’t be greater. Too bad they don’t speak the same language and never know the full meaning of the moment they shared.

©2003, David Perry,, 31 October 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry