Almost a Woman (2001)

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Sell-Through Release Status Unknown
Available for Rent

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 89:24 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:34) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Betty Kaplan
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Wanda De Jesus
Miriam Colon
Cliff De Young
Francesco Quinn
Luis García
Ismael 'East' Carlo
Alexis Cruz
Angelo Pagan
George Wyner
Christine Healy
Diane Salinger
Anne De Salvo
Ana Maria Lagasca
Case ?
RPI Rental Music Lee Holdridge


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The narrator and true life central character of this story is Esmerelda Santiago (played by Ana Maria Lagasca), born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1948. With the crumbling of her parents' marriage, her mother (Wanda De Jesus) escapes her philandering husband and flees with 3 of her 7 children under the guise of taking her son for medical treatment in America. The year is 1961 and Esmerelda, her mother, brother and sister must adapt to life in the downtrodden streets of Brooklyn with little English, less money and not much more than desperation to drive them forward.

    What ensues is one young woman's perspective of navigating the difficult transitional years of adolescence as a stranger in a strange land. Santiago herself wrote the screenplay for this made for television programme, which chronicles her adventures in high school, her audition to a prestigious "fame" school, and the teetering adventures of her ever-growing family of siblings. Her mother conducts her life with grim determination, taking one poorly paid job after another to support a clutch of children (eleven of them by film's end) whilst finding herself the magnet to every red-blooded Hispanic male in the district. They move from place to place as circumstances dictate and have to suffer the indignities of racist paternalism on all sides.

    This film for me never really quite lifted off the ground. As well intentioned as it might be, I was surprised that it was actually authored by the person who'd lived this life. The plot was heavily truncated, with large jumps in time that were never particularly well explained leading to a somewhat stunted and disjointed piece. This resulted in a clumsy and wooden storyline which never really flowed or built up any genuine plot tension. Whether it was a victim of the editor is impossible to say, but it resulted in a piece where one never really felt a particular empathy or sympathy with the characters as they lurched from one trial to another. At the end of the film our narrator says, "This is what I remember, as I remember it. Our lives were filled with sorrow, but we never gave up because joy came in equal measure." But to this reviewer's eye, the past 90 minutes were filled with tedious grimness with little mitigating joy or energy to soften it.

    The acting style was mostly serviceable but they also seemed somewhat hamstrung by the leaden plot. There was little room for subtlety and a too heavy reliance on visual clichés by the director to steer the audience every step of the way. Some of these became downright annoying at times, particularly the grainy, hand-held camera "dream" sequences, which rarely contributed anything to either the plot or the emotional colour of the piece, and mostly served to simply distract and further disjoint the narrative.

    Overall, this is a harmless way to while away an hour and a half that won't change your life or your perspective on anything, but probably won't have you throwing styrofoam bricks at your screen either.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer quality of this film is adequate, and commensurate with a made-for-television effort.    

    It is presented in full screen 1:33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.   

    The transfer has a certain "masked" quality (see section below) which alters the way the transfer looks on the screen. There is evidence of low level noise throughout which occasionally results in macro-blocking that takes definition away from the entire image, as can be seen at 74:28 and 78:15 for example. There is reasonable detail in the shadows, but the blacks had a tendency to block up and there was hardly evidence of a crisp white in the entire film.

       The colour palette of this film is extremely muted, creating an almost "smoky" effect to the presentation. Judging by other cut away scenes, like the aforementioned "dream" scenes which do not have this mask, it would appear that this palette was an intentional choice by the producers of the film. It results in a murky and frequently dull appearance, with no true whites in evidence. If this was a creative device by the producers to portray the dullness and grimness of the lives depicted, I would suggest next time they encourage their characters to act those elements of the story instead. That being said, the colour palette was consistent and reasonably regular. 

    There was little evidence of aliasing, or at least none to distract the viewer from the action. The print was generally clean, although one can detect the grain more clearly in the rare scenes with a high key background.

    There were no optional subtitles or alternate languages to select. During the frequent Spanish speaking scenes, English subtitles show up burned into the image. There were no major problems with lip sync in evidence.

    The layer change occurs at 57:34 at a perfect transition point between scenes and creates no distractions at all.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track available on this disc - English Dolby Digital 2.0.    

    The dialogue was always easy to hear but the overall sound quality was quite tinny and occasionally irritating. Strangely, it sounded at its best when the music was playing, as if that was what it was balanced to. This slightly trebly quality to the soundtrack made it a very one dimensional experience, with the sound being somewhat flat but serviceable.   

    Audio sync did not present any discernible problems.

    The musical score is credited to Lee Holdridge and, in my opinion, was one of the highlights of the presentation. It exemplified all the passion and joy and rhythm and viscerality of Spanish style music, with wonderful flamenco refrains and "Buena Vista Social Club"-like ballads. It portrayed more emotive quality than anything else in this production.   

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

       There are no extras on this DVD.   

Menu

    The menu design is static, without audio and extremely basic.   

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    No information is available about an R1 version of this release.

Summary

    If you've read and enjoyed Esmerelda Santiago's books, you may be able to fill in the plot holes that are so glaringly obvious in this production. If not, be prepared for a fairly pedestrian but mildly pleasant viewing experience that will stay with you about as long as a fast food taco.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Sunday, November 23, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTechnics SA-DX930 Amp / Receiver
SpeakersAudio-Pro 5 Avantek OneHouse satellites & subwoofer

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