A Faustian tale of border town corruption, "Tortilla Heaven" benefits from a hearty Hispanic indie-film atmosphere and an infectious enthusiasm to entertain, even in the modest way it conducts business.
Isidor (Jose Zuniga, "CSI") is a humble man trying to make ends meet in his tiny New Mexican town. Selling a rich tapestry of Mexican food to anyone who will stop by to eat, Isidor dreams of a day when his recipes will be celebrated nationwide...but first his town must have a paved road. When the image of Jesus is mysteriously burned onto one of his tortillas, Isidor's hard luck turns into a race for fortune and glory, inciting a media circus to cover the town's lopsided religious experience, and presenting a shady business manager (Miguel Sandoval) who keeps wanting more from Isidor.
There's a "Northern Exposure" ambiance that runs through "Tortilla Heaven," even if the film is set near the Mexico border. The picture is all about small-town quirk and communication, but it never pitches the comedy too broadly, keeping a focused eye on the neighborhood of bewildered and greedy characters the film has to sort through.
Working on a tight budget, director Judy Hecht Dumontet bestows much of the heavy narrative lifting to her impressive cast. Everyone gets an opportunity to jump into the fray in "Tortilla" and this unique assortment of character actors and bright personalities shines right through. It's a delightful ensemble lead by Zuniga's fame-hungry Isidor and Sandoval, essentially playing Satan, who uses Isidor's lust to swindle the whole town out of their businesses and ideals, and encourages extensive community divide. Even though "Tortilla" is a comedy, Sandoval's polished portrayal of financial evil remains a shade more disturbing than I was expecting.
"Tortilla" is a straightforward morality play, but a lively one. The goal is to impart the viewer with an unpretentious tale of right vs. wrong, but through a sugared, entertaining approach. With an eccentric collection of cash-mad citizens, a struggling farmer, media personalities, a jealous priest, a neurotic nudist (played by Olivia Hussey), and a pinch of forbidden teenage love thrown in for taste, "Tortilla" is so busy keeping tabs on all the characters, the mash notes of forgiveness and faith are slipped in without much fuss.
Bright, sunshine-packed vistas are found in this anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation, and the DVD offers a warm visual experience. Colors are faithfully reproduced and black levels are adequate, while grainy detail remains strong.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is extremely reserved in design and execution, sticking to needs of the dialogue, which is separated from the soundtrack selections comfortably.
Spanish subtitles are provided.
Anchor Bay/Starz provided a feature screener for DVD Talk to review, with only a Theatrical Trailer offered as a supplement.
While it doesn't contain many laugh-out-loud moments, "Tortilla Heaven" is a consistently engaging motion picture, made with obvious love for the isolated location and for the spirit of a supportive community. The picture has small ambitions, yet it manages some impressive results.
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