The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: October 3, 2003
By TERESA MALCOLM
A young Mexican boy wearing a bloodstained shirt and accompanied by a dog stumbles into the California town of San Ramos (population: 400). Wandering the empty streets at night, he catches sight of the sheriff, which sends him scurrying for cover. He takes refuge in the church. There, he unwittingly creates a miracle.
That is the premise of The Maldonado Miracle, the directorial debut of actress Salma Hayek that airs on the Showtime cable network in October. The movie is at turns touching, funny and thought-provoking as it considers the question of where real miracles are found.
The boy is 11-year-old José Maldonado (Eddy Martin), who, we learn through flashbacks, is an illegal who crept under a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to find his father, a migrant farm worker. A flight from la migra -- the border patrol -- leads to Josés bleeding arm (he took a knife blow while protecting his dog) and his night spent on scaffolding above the crucifix in the San Ramos church.
José leaves by morning to find better shelter in an abandoned shop across the street. So he is not present when parishioner Josephina runs out of the church crying, Milagro! Milagro! Christ on the crucifix now appears to have tears of blood.
With a rapidity that rather strains viewers suspension of disbelief, the dying mining town of San Ramos turns into a bustling pilgrimage site and tourist trap. Josephina (Soledad St. Hilaire) holds court with the faithful, recounting an increasingly elaborate and fantastic tale of blinding lights and buckets of blood. Slips of paper with prayer requests fill cracks in the walls of the dilapidated church.
Meanwhile, José and his dog Sánchez move among the crowds who have descended on the town, unaware of the part the boy may have played in the miracle.
There are, of course, skeptics among the townspeople. The parish priest, Father Russell (Peter Fonda), seeks to verify the substance on the crucifix. And the owner of the local diner, Maisie (Mare Winningham), declares: Water stains, blood stains. What the hell kind of miracles are those? If God wants to make a miracle, he might as well do something useful.
No one denies the economic usefulness of the miracle to the town. When Sheriff Frank Olcott (Dan Merket) pieces together Josés presence above the crucifix that night, he has no interest in revealing the truth about the probable source of the blood. The sheriff just wants to round up José and turn him over to the border patrol -- getting rid of the evidence that could jeopardize the towns unexpected revival.
But beyond the monetary benefits, the miracle becomes a catalyst for hope among the various townsfolk: Maisie urges Father Russell to find and help the unknown Mexican boy who has come into her diner, giving the despondent, demoralized priest someone to care for. The local bartender (Rubén Blades) decides to act on his romantic feelings for Maisie. A married couple finds reason to renew their commitment to each other. We even see the disbelieving sheriff leave his own prayer note in the walls of the church, asking God to set free his elderly mother who is suffering from Alzheimers disease. True miracles, the story seems to tell us, can be found in human relationships.
The movies tone walks a fine line between sentimentality and sometimes over-the-top humor, but never slips into the maudlin, in large part thanks to the talented cast. And in the central role, Eddy Martin as José manages to be believable as a simple immigrant boy and yet have an air of intriguing mystery -- like there just might be something miraculous about him.
Teresa Malcolm is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003
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