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Jose: A timeless tale of character
Tomas Gomez Bustillo has created a tale based in Los Angeles that could apply to anyone struggling against helping themselves or someone in need.

One of the most vital contributions of the arts is that it provides empathy. Film in particular allows us to see the perspective of others in a first person sense. Though we may not be inside their actual existence, films allow us to see the world as someone of a completely different gender, race, and mindset.

It is perhaps the most powerful medium yet invented by humans to understand one another at the deepest level. Tomas Gomez Bustillo has proven that he can powerfully wield this tool with his body of work, perhaps most profoundly in the film Jose.

Known for his roles starring alongside such notable actors Al Pacino (in Scarface), Kevin Costner (in Silverado), Clint Eastwood (in The Rookie), and Edward James Olmos (in American Me), Pepe Serna gives an immensely powerful performance in the title role. In every frame of this film, it's obvious that director and lead actor found a common root in this story of a man conflicted by what price he will pay by helping another. As with any work of substance, Jose causes us to ask questions of ourselves rather than have the answers laid out in front of us for effortless consumption.

Although originally set in Buenos Aires during the 2001 crisis and co-written by Hernan Bustamante, Tomas felt that Los Angeles was an ideal location to place the action of this film. He confides, "LA, like Buenos Aires, has a different life at night. Strange and unexpected events can occur at any given time. It has a certain tense stillness that I was immediately drawn to. As we started developing this rendition of Jose, it felt like a very LA story in the sense that LA is not only home to Hollywood and the entertainment business but also to a lot of emptiness, lost dreams, alienation, unfulfilled promises. This felt very appropriate for what the character was going to go through." East LA is a remarkably short distance from the glamour of Hollywood but it may as well be hundreds of miles away for all of the contrast that its urban intensity implies. While a strong cultural and artistic identity exists there, it's still offers a less optimistic veneer than Hollywood. This trait among many others made East LA another character in the story; one unpredictable in its motives.

Jose is an elderly man working overnight in his repair shop when an expectant mother in dire straits beats on the door pleading for help. His ankle monitor informs us that he has mistakes from his past that affect his life to this day. Throughout the events in the film and Jose's actions, we bear witness to the same dilemma we all experience in the human condition; who are we at our core and how much are we willing to sacrifice of ourselves to help someone truly in need? What makes Jose so relatable, so intoxicating, and so infuriating, is the truth that we are all merely a choice away from doing something altruistic or doing something awful. This relatable complexity is understood because of the way that the director places the viewer in the emotional space of Jose. We feel his anxiety, his trepidation, and ultimately his resolve.

There's no denying the relationship to the biblical tale of Jesus and Mary in Jose. What is so incongruent to the religious telling is the lack of ensured safety for the young single mother in Bustillo's presentation. The focus is not on the innocent characters but instead on the man who will write his own villainy or benevolence in the lives of others. Tomas was most interested in this aspect as he informs, "Growing up in a Catholic household, the imagery and characters of the Bible still linger and resonate in me long after having become an agnostic. I still struggle to stop thinking in terms of 'good' and 'evil.' I still catch myself thinking of morality in light of an eternal, unequivocal fate: 'heaven' and 'hell.' As a search in my own questions about morality, Jose becomes a reinterpretation of the Nativity Sequence in the New Testament, set in contemporary East LA and questioning the Bible's archetypes of morality and heroics, finding a protagonist in a deeply flawed, condemnable, and wounded man, a man who would by all counts seem to deserve eternal condemnation."

The director travelled to the desert home of Serna to discuss the title role and to collaborate on the presentation of Jose as a character. Pepe's impressive body of work has long ago proven him a highly gifted actor; Jose afforded the opportunity to communicate this role in a non-dialogue driven physical manner. The facial expressions and mannerisms Serna utilizes to communicate Jose's state of mind are nothing short of remarkable. Jose's lack of heroic qualities is the most endearing part of him, considering his actions.

As a film, Jose poses a universal question; are even the people who have done something truly unforgivable capable of finding it within themselves to reconnect with their humanity, if for only an instance? In so doing the film also implies the inverse; can a monster become a hero and a hero thus do something monstrous? Jose is more than a film for Bustillo who concedes, "I myself don't have definitive answers to these questions, which is why I wanted to explore them. The best way for me to relate to it was to adapt a biblical tale, where good and bad are so clearly defined, to a more human, mundane, and morally ambiguous tale. What if Joseph was actually Jose, a man who casts a very dark shadow? Maybe making an extremely flawed biblical character and setting the tale in the back streets of East LA rather than the Holy Land could somehow challenge and begin a dialogue with that parable."

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