Every year, 4 000 migrant workers travel from Mexico to Canada to work for
eight months in Leamington, ON, the tomato capital of Canada.
They are put up in small apartments with five or six beds per room, they work
seven days a week for minimum wage with no overtime, and in order for any of
them to get a coveted placement, they must prove that they are married with
children—they must have ties to Mexico so that they will not consider
If you consider that for longer than a moment, you realize that this
arrangement means that each worker is home for only four months every year.
(There is a poignant scene where one of the men calls home for his
son’s birthday, with a guitarist friend in tow to help him sing well
wishes.) You also realize that the setup is nothing short of slavery. And
neither of these realizations is lost on the workers themselves.
In El Contrato, director Min Sook Lee follows Teodoro Bello Martinez, a poor
father of four, and several of his co-workers as they strive to not only make
the most of their circumstances but also to find some way of making things
better for all concerned.
Martinez finds himself in some hot water when he tries to complain about the
abusive supervisory tactics of one of his managers (which include belittling
and hitting). If he fully follows through on his complaint, he will have to
either change employers or return home before his contract is up. Either way,
if he doesn’t fulfill his contract, he’ll be stuck with the cost
of the flight.
His plight is compounded by the fact that some residents of the town see
“those Mexicans” as a necessary evil, complaining that they are
loud, dirty and get inappropriately drunk. And by the oft-repeated refrain
that if he doesn’t like it, there’s a long lineup of Mexicans
waiting to take his spot.
Lee’s camera aptly captures the workers’ way of life while in
Canada, only giving way to minimal narration on a handful of occasions. For
the most part, she allows her subjects speak for themselves.
El Contrato is a must-see for anybody who gets all squishy inside about how
enlightened and wonderful Canada is. The film is also part of a larger
program of shorts and features by women being shown at the Stanley A Milner
Library and Metro Cinema over the weekend (Apr 28 – 30). Reel Femme ’06
is showing an eclectic blend of art-house shorts and documentaries, including
a handful by local directors—from the award winning short Hand Sum by
Eva Colmers to Shelaine Sparrow’s Eat This! V
Fri, Apr 28 (8:30 pm)
Directed by Min Sook Lee,
Written By Min Sook Lee
Stanley A Milner Library, pay what you can