CineVegas 2006 (2006)
G.I. Jesus is what a movie at a film festival should be -- creative, original, and challenging.
G.I. Jesus is the story of Jesus Feliciano (Joe Arquette), a Mexican who enlisted in the US army and has served in Iraq, as a means to try to get legal citizenship in the United States for himself, his wife (Patricia Mota), and his daughter (Telana Lynum).
When he returns to California from the war, Jesus is haunted by post traumatic stress, which forces him to face his past and future.
A movie such as G.I. Jesus runs the danger of slipping into broad, easy proselytizing. It is a film that could lose its way, but it doesn't.
Some of Jesus's hallucinations have more clutter than clarity, and on occasion the film seems on the verge of faltering, but director/co-writer Carl Colpaert knows where he is going. At times Jesus is wracked by wayward uncertainty; Colpaert is not.
Colpaert, born in Belgium, has a deft human touch. He is an able filmmaker who knows what film can do -- how film can mix time and space. He has some jolting montages; mixing in actual war footage gives authenticity to fantasy.
His cast serves him well. Joe Arquette is vulnerable and convincing as the disturbed soldier, the Mexican Everyman, Jesus. Patricia Mota is first-rate as the loving and fearful wife Claudia. Maurizio Farhad humanizes the otherworldly spirit, Mohammed.
And Talana Lynum steals scenes as the young daughter Marina, who is the voice of sweet reason. Little Miss Lynum is a charmer.
The cinematography by Fred Goodich is evocative, as are the vibrant soundtrack and music by Carlos Durango.
There are some scenes that don't work. The argument between Jesus and Claudia in the car is pat and toneless.
Some of the symbols are a little forced -- a game of musical chairs that may be a metaphor for countries is unconvincing.
But other symbols and references are sly and effective. A street sign is "National," and Jesus's last name is Feliciano. Jose Feliciano sings the final "California Dreamin,' which makes a telling juxtaposition with a previous rendering by the Mamas and the Papas, which Jesus experienced on a video on the plane to California.
The conclusion of G.I. Jesus is as stirring as Jose Feliciano's soulful voice.
That emphasizes the quality that ultimately is the greatest strength of G.I. Jesus -- its heart.