ROMÁNTICO: The heart is in Mexico but the money’s in San Francisco.
As Mark Becker’s steady, tender documentary opens, we find mariachi musician Carmelo Sanchez living illegally in San Francisco, playing his guitar and serenading people on the streets and in restaurants with his alcoholic partner Arturo. It’s three years since he’s been home to his wife and two daughters in Salvatierra, Mexico. Closing in on 60, with a sad, deep-lined face, Carmelo moves wearily through the city; he can make $100 a night in California, he tells us, and it takes two weeks to make that much in Mexico. But his ailing mother draws him home, and there he’s forced to scrape out a living selling “snow” — sugared crushed ice — from a bicycle cart. Becker, on 16mm film, conveys Carmelo’s ambivalence over whether to stay with his family in poverty or leave them behind to make more money. A portrait of the dignity of sacrifice, Romántico elicits second thoughts about border walls.