The City (La Ciudad), a black-and-white movie comprised of four New York stories, marks the feature film debut of David Riker, who previously worked in documentaries. Acted by non-professionals and photographed stunningly in a style reminiscent of Italian neorealism, Riker's film offers a portrait of Latin American immigrants in a strange and often daunting new world. A wraparound story set in a commercial photographer's studio, where new arrivals seek head shots for documentation, serves as a connective link for the four narratives.

In Bricks, immigrant men are recruited to gather bricks from an abandoned lot and paid 15 cents a brick for their tiresome labor. But a wall collapses and one of the men is crushed. Home is a bittersweet vignette about a young Mexican man who wanders into a party on West 187th Street, where he meets a girl from his home town, only to lose her the next day in a labyrinthine housing project.

In The Puppeteer, a South Bronx lot is the setting for a rudimentary puppet show performed by a homeless man, with help from his young daughter who passes a hat for contributions. But city regulations make life difficult for these poor unfortunates. Seamstress, the most heartbreaking of the stories, focuses on a woman who works in a sweatshop and needs desperately to send money home to pay her daughter's medical bills. But the workers haven't gotten their wages in weeks and there is no union to fight for their cause.

Filmmaker Riker began The City in 1992 while he was studying at NYU graduate film school, expanding the movie over the next five years or so, working with various communities in the New York area. A labor of love and certainly a radical cinematic statement about class, inequality and the need for social change, The City offers a haunting, compassionate look at the day-to-day lives of all too many New Yorkers.

--Ed Kelleher