Directed by Ken Loach, starring Adrien Brody, Pilar Padilla and Elpidia Carrillo.
Ken Loach's films have always been synonymous with class-consciousness and political upheaval. From the vulnerability of a working-class Northern England boy in 'Kes', to the Nicaraguan/US conflict in 'Ladybird Ladybird', Loach's unflinching lens has captured the lives of the downtrodden and politically tormented for several decades.
While 'Bread and Roses' follows in the same vein, it is his first film set in the US. The opening scene, shot in frantic, hand-held mode shows Maya (Pilar Padilla) fleeing across the Mexican border into the US, guided by coyotes (human traffickers). She believes her dream of living and working in America has come true, until reality bites and she is forced to work in a sleazy bar. Her sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) gets her a job as a cleaner in a commercial office block in Los Angeles, where the pay is appalling and conditions are worse.
Maya soon encounters Union activist Sam (Adrien Brody) who inspires her along with her co-workers to 'Get Up, Stand Up' for their rights through a 'Justice for Janitors' campaign. Various political and union battles against the powers that be ensue, and Maya discovers her potential on various levels through agitation and a subsequent affair with Sam. Although the action veers towards resolution, it is justice that prevails and love that is thwarted. The struggle of Maya and her co-workers is successful, but Maya pays a high price when she helps a friend achieve his college dream, and her own aspirations ultimately fall apart.
The film's title comes from a rallying call used by women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. During a strike for better wages and working conditions they held a rally carrying banners that said: "We want bread, but we want roses, too." While Loach has always championed the causes and chronicled the lives of the voiceless, he does so with an unobtrusive compassion. The harsh realities of these lives are not sentimentalised in any way. He captures brilliantly the experiences of living and working in an urban metropolis, far from home, with little education and fewer language skills. 'Bread and Roses' sensitively handles this topic and although Loach's political sensibilities permeate the film, the story stands up well by itself, largely helped by an excellent cast.