Star Maps

(Miguel Arteta, USA, 1997)


At the public session of this film which I attended, there were only four paying customers. This reveals what a throwaway item it must be to its distributor which provided only minimal publicity and a limited, two week season.


The tearing irony of this situation is that Star Maps puts to shame most of the product that has recently been served up to us under the trendy ‘American independent' label.


Although the setting is Hollywood and the central activity of its characters appears to be the distribution of 'star maps' tourist guides to the homes of local stars there is absolutely nothing glamorous in this story. The map business is a cover for a prostitution racket run by the stern, seedy patriarch Pepe (Efrain Figueroa).


Pepe has an interesting way of organising his trade. He presses both his teenage son, Carlos (Douglas Spain), and his mistress into service as whores sometimes as a pair. At home, he ignores the plight of his severely depressed wife, Teresa (Martha Velez), and pokes bullish fun at Carlos' obese brother. Only his adult daughter, Maria (Lysa Flores), appears to escape the taint of degradation. But for how long?


Star Maps is in the raw, neo-realist tradition of such movies as Pixote (1981), Angelo, My Love (1983) and Mixed Blood (1985). Like those films, it derives some its best and most unnerving effects from a certain amateurishness natural, sometimes clumsy acting from non-professionals; and an unfussy visual style that emphasises the tense, poignant expressions of faces, hands and bodies.


Writer-director Miguel Arteta offers an unsentimental, largely non-moralising gaze upon this often sordid milieu. He finds a strange tenderness in the most outlandish and outrageous situations. Although the film has a rough, unpolished feel it builds an admirable atmosphere of dread, and leads to a melodramatic denouement that feels neither contrived nor evasive.

MORE Arteta: The Good Girl

© Adrian Martin January 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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