Updated: Feb 17
Directed by Paloma Martinez
REVIEW BY RYAN McDONALD
Many documentaries, and narratives for the matter, attempt to provide a subjective perspective without actually giving their subjects autonomy. There are always the hands and the eyes of a cinematographer or the blocking of a director resulting in shades from outside the documented world bleeding into the final work. It seems apparent that Paloma Martinez saw the ways of most modern documentaries and realized that point-of-view only works if an artist deconstructs what it is to make a documentary by removing the reins from a subject. CRISANTO STREET, operates like a Venn diagram incorporating observational cinema, direct cinema, and new family archives controlled by the hands and eyes of Geovany; a resident eight-year-old living in a trailer in Silicon Valley where even the average middle-class family makes seven times the national income (1). Martinez answers the question, how can anyone understand a microcosm within a microcosm - by allowing those that live in that world to hold the camera themselves.
Geovany’s mother informs us that she and her three children are moving into low-income housing after spending the last two years in the trailer together. A man, presumably a neighbor, speaks to Geovany as if he is speaking to his younger self. The man asks Geovany to never drink, smoke, or do drugs, “they lead to death,” he imparts seriously, “Everything.” As Geovany starts to leave, the man wishes him good luck. The juxtaposition of Geovany’s excitement and the man’s words forces me to worry about the journey ahead for both. Not a fear that Geovany will for some reason or another disobey the man’s wisdom, but because of the unspoken hardships that the man’s eyes seem to be hiding for the sake of preserving Geovany’s youth. That night the whole family falls asleep. One day closer to new beginnings. There’s a sensitivity to not outshine Geovany’s camera work when the film transitions to the hands of professionals. Martinez is subtle and exceptional when making a point. She uses images of the local transit system’s route to show the glaring wealth gap in Silicon Valley, and how two economic extremes coexist. The train passes by restaurants, a beautiful lobby, new construction, and finally passes by a child’s bike next to a trailer. What seems like a simple sequence expanding beyond Crisanto Street, is in fact elegant editing illustrating the vastly different socioeconomic circumstances of Silicon Valley residents.
In the end, one of the most endearing aspects of this film is Geovany’s ability to fill the cracks and crevices of a divided social system with a happiness for life. His living circumstances would be judged by many as the bare minimum and lacking in many ways, however, we understand through his eyes that he sees himself with a good life filled with a supportive community, friends, and even a park to play and be outdoors right next door.
When they finally make it to their new home, Geovany beams with excitement - yet he was already a beacon - a person unencumbered by the notion that it takes being somewhere or having something to feel happy in the first place.