I was glad to see my friend and former student Elizabeth Dominguez in CALIFORNIA WINTER, which was screened Wednesday as part of the New Directors series at Anthology Film Archives. The film is a noticeably well-informed work about the foreclosure crisis at the heart of the 2008 crash. The writer and director Odin Ozdil explicates the causes of the disaster through the story of Clara, a real estate agent who is caught out in all innocence by the business and banking practices that brought it about.
What hits home while watching the film is the extent to which we live in a “system” that plays our needs for housing, medical care and human dignity off each other for its own benefit. We are given all too few options for getting by, to say nothing of ahead, and declared the losers when the rules we are forced to play by reach their logical breaking point. That CALIFORNIA WINTER is full of familiar faces from film and television, but not those of big stars, adds to the sense that this is about us and the people we know, or if not, then ones we ought to know and acknowledge more than we do. This is a film about community that, although it focuses on a single person in that community, never forgets the whole.
Not every role gives an actor the chance to tap into all of the basic human relations experienced in an average life – with co-workers, friends, love interests, family, figures in the community, and strangers – but Clara does, and what makes Dominguez so convincing in the part is way in which she lets so many feelings and obligations come together from so many different places. She creates a core fed by the realities of circumstance, and I do not think there is a wrong note in her performance, which shifts between moods and emotions as easily as it does between English and Spanish.
CALIFORNIA WINTER is not perfect (it shrugs off a necessary transition here and there, and some of the shots could be better composed) but it is dramatically strong and thematically important and deserves to be paid attention to on both counts.
Check listings for viewing options.