The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez (Specogna, 2005)

The title character grew up a Guatemalan street kid, living through some of the toughest environments in Latin America, eventually making it to an orphanage where he found some stability and guidance. Ever the shape-shifter (he enjoyed telling people what they wanted to hear and then doing the opposite), Gutierrez dreamed of being an architect, so he set off on the long road through Mexico eventually crossing the border into America and starting anew in the land where dreams are made. Situated within the foster care system in Los Angeles, Gutierrez joined up after George W. passed a law stating illegal aliens could gain citizenship through service. He became a Marine, and ironically was the first casualty of the latest Iraq war, killed by “friendly fire.” This overview is important because it charts the “short”-ness of this young man’s life, calling attention to the tragedy in terms of a lost future. As a young teenager, Jose searched for his sister in war torn Guatemala and found her. He wanted to live in the U.S.A. and he succeeded there as well. The filmmakers set up this row of dominos as an indicator Jose would have indeed become and architect and lived a happy, western life, if it weren’t for the American led invasion in the MIddle East. The Short Life of Jose… isn’t visually stylized, or that arresting in the visceral sense. It tells this story well, with concise editing and an interesting narrative structure: namely, reenacting Jose’s journey from rags to rags in America through other’s traveling that same route. It’s a telling device, haunting in a ghostly way, reliving the steps of a dynamic and chameleon type character. But Gutierrez’s absence feels real, and the words of his friends and family glide by his pictures and belongings like ether into space. The film is so goal oriented itself in trying to paint a picture of who this man was, there really isn’t much of a conflict or challenge in the storytelling. For that, Jose Antonio Gutierrez comes across as an apparition, his true life lingering just beyond his filmed, reincarnated one.- Screened at the 2007 San Diego Latino Film Festival


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