Casa de los babys [2003]

John Sayles brings observant compassion and calm insight to Casa de los Babys, a fiercely independent film with a peerless ensemble cast. Dispensing with traditional storytelling to focus instead on the turbulent emotions surrounding the adoption of babies by American women in an unnamed South American country (filmed in Acapulco, Mexico), Sayles takes an unobtrusive approach to their dilemmas, listening (and filming) like an understanding friend to these hopeful women, who are either bound or separated by their disparate personalities. Sayles also covers both sides of the adoption equation by including a Latina mother (Vanessa Martinez), certain that her baby will enjoy a better life with adoptive American parents, but still struggling with the anguish of her sacrifice. This isn't on par with Sayles's best work (and reviews were predictably mixed), but there's not a false note anywhere, and the cast (including Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lili Taylor, Susan Lynch and Mary Steenburgen) is uniformly superb. Sayles isn't playing social commentator here, and that's to his credit. Instead, Casa de los Babys is a sensitive film about a sensitive subject, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. --Jeff Shannon

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