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'Real Women Have Curves'

Film Clips: A roundup of new releases

Friday, November 15, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As the title suggests, "Real Women Have Curves." And, sometimes, cellulite and stretch marks, and the brave actresses in the movie strip down to their underwear to show off the sorts of shapes and silhouettes you won't find in a Christina or Britney video.

'Real Women Have Curves'

RATING: PG-13 for sexual content and some language.

STARRING: America Ferrera, Lupe Ontiveros

DIRECTOR: Patricia Cardoso

WEB SITE: realwomen


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It's a declaration of liberation for the women who spend their sweaty days hunched over sewing machines churning out beautiful formal dresses bound for Bloomingdale's. The factory is paid $18 a gown and the store sells them for $600 each.

The work is hard and hot; there's no air conditioning and a fan is forbidden since it would blow dust onto the clothing. Someone's making money, and it's not the Mexican-American woman who runs Estela's Fashion Design.

Estela Garcia (Ingrid Oliu), a single 29-year-old who lives with her parents, is three weeks behind in her rent, worried about paying the electric bill and counting on her employees to wait for their money -- again. This is where Estela's younger sister, Ana (America Ferrera), reluctantly finds herself in the days after graduation.

Ana, the compelling center of "Real Women," lives in East Los Angeles but went to high school in Beverly Hills, where her fellow students seem to have no idea of what her life is like. She's a bright girl who should be headed to college, but her parents won't allow it right now; she can go later, they suggest.

Her hypercritical mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), says she started working full time at 13 and her daughter is long overdue at 18. She also hounds Ana about her weight, calling her "butterball" or simply fat and suggesting she needs to shed pounds so she can find a husband.

Ana initially has nothing but disdain for the factory where her job is steaming and ironing the fragile dresses and sweeping the floors. But during the course of the summer, she has an awakening about the type of work her sister and seamstress mother do, about a boy who sees her as beautiful and about her ability to compete for a college scholarship to one of the top schools in the country.

"Real Women," directed by Patricia Cardoso and opening today at the Manor, was co-written by Josefina Lopez, who spent time as an undocumented worker in an East L.A. sewing factory. She turned her experiences into a play, now transformed into a movie that examines the clash of generations, of cultures and of class.

Ana and her mother, for instance, have very different ideas about sex and marriage, and Ana and her sister are made to feel like ungrateful, unreliable outsiders when they approach the condescending woman who contracted Estela to make the dresses. Ana's father works as a gardener, and we see him blowing leaves on lawns as big as some city neighborhoods.

Just as "8 Mile" does, "Real Women" vibrates with authenticity because of its casting, locations, music and details. Ferrera, a first-generation American born to Honduran parents who makes her movie debut here, is fearless in her portrayal of a girl who isn't ashamed of her body and knows she's defined by more than her measurements, and who wants to go to college but doesn't want to abandon her overwhelmed sister or sweet grandfather.

Ana is caught between the tug of tradition, family, the past and home and the heady promise of the future. She and the movie are a joy to behold.

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