THE STORY – Diego, a Venezuelan urbanist, and Elena, a contemporary dancer from Barcelona, move to the United States with their approved visas to start a new life. Their intention is to boost their professional careers and start a family in ‘the land of opportunities’. But upon entering Newark airport’s immigration area, they are taken to the secondary inspection room, where border officers will subject them to an unpleasant inspection process and a psychologically grueling interrogation. Over the next few hours, the fate of Elena, Diego and their dreams is called into question as the officers interviewing them try to discover whether the couple may have something to hide, thus jeopardizing their entry.
THE CAST – Alberto Ammann, Bruna Cusí, Ben Temple & Laura Gómez
THE TEAM – Alejandro Rojas & Juan Sebastián Vásquez (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 74 Minutes
Diego and Elena have won the lottery, specifically, the US Immigrant Visa lottery. Traveling from Barcelona, they have a stopover in Newark, NJ, before going to their final destination in Miami. Upon entering the immigration area, though, they are pulled aside for secondary inspection. No one will explain anything to them until they get brought into a room for an interrogation. After all, they’ve had to go through in the visa application process; they have to endure another hour or so of hell to determine if they will get to build a new life in America after all.
Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vásquez’s “Upon Entry” may only be 74 minutes long but is so tense for the majority of that runtime that you’ll be glad it’s not longer. The co-writer/directors steadily ratchet up the tension throughout, forcing the audience to sit with Diego and Elena throughout the entirety of their ordeal. The film is smartly structured as a mystery, peeling back the layers of our main characters’ identities as we learn why Homeland Security is suspicious enough to detain them. A memorable recurring shot finds the back of the investigator’s head taking up the bulk of the frame, pushing Diego and Elena to opposite sides of the screen, effectively visualizing how the US government has inserted itself into their lives, threatening to break them apart. As the film goes on and the questions get more pointed and specific, doubt begins to creep in: Who are Diego and Elena really, and why exactly do they want to come here? Do they understand how hard it is to make a life in America? Are they prepared? While the film hinges on a revelation that feels a bit melodramatic, it effectively elicits gasps and deepens our understanding of the characters.
Alberto Ammann and Bruna Cusi are fantastic as Diego and Elena, with wide-open faces that naturally elicit empathy from the audience. As their characters get put through the wringer, the actors are called upon to conjure up nearly every emotion and, in some cases, many different gradations. Cusi, in particular, has to find multiple levels of confusion, first about why they’re being pulled aside and then about the actual questions they ask. Ammann has the trickier role, as Diego makes some questionable decisions and then bears the brunt of the investigators’ suspicion. But no matter what gets thrown at him, Ammann is so locked into the core of Diego’s humanity that it’s impossible not to feel for him. These may not be the most pleasant characters to spend time with, but the actors make us feel for them anyway.
And feel for them we should because of what they have been subjected to. The point of “Upon Entry” is how cruelly these people are treated, as though they were criminals who have already proven their innocence but still have to stand trial. After all, they’ve been through, it would be fair to ask Diego and Elena if they even still want to live in America, a country that barely seems to want them there. Even though the reason for the interrogation does make some kind of sense in the end, the interrogation itself is a terrible thing to do to people who have spent years preparing for this and have brought their whole lives with them to start fresh in a new country. “Upon Entry” is a searing indictment of the US immigration system and will open a lot of eyes to what people coming to this country have to go through. The fact that it’s also a tight-as-a-drum thriller that doesn’t wear out its welcome is just the icing on the cake.