Film Review: Los Sures

An invaluable, wonderfully restored filmic record of a poverty-stricken lost New York time and world, set in a now highly improbable and affluent area.
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The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn is now the epicenter of hip in New York, but in the early 1980s, it was one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  Back then, Diego Echeverria, a young filmmaker, decided to document the area, known by its Hispanic population as “Los Sures,” and its residents. His movie was finished in 1984, and its theatrical release comes decades later thanks to Union Docs, a Williamsburg-based nonprofit that restored the film and screened it to great acclaim last summer.

Echeverria concentrates on five Puerto Ricans, each of them as different as can be from the others. Tito, a street guy who makes his living stealing cars, describes the precariousness and imminent mortality that goes along with gang life. Marta, a single mother on welfare, describes the difficulty of providing for her five children and finding a decent man. Intense Ana Maria is not your ordinary grandma, finding deep spirituality by going into religious trances. Cuso represents the hard-working male element of the population, staying on the straight and poorly paid narrow by doing the work of a general contractor. Evelyn, truly beautiful on the outside as well as the inside, is a social worker trying to make a difference in a neighborhood that many of its residents would like to get out of. The Williamsburg of Los Sures is a far cry from the desirable Williamsburg of today, with its chic restaurants, bars and boutiques.

New York has become such a relatively safe, almost squeaky clean tourist mecca and playground for the rich that it’s easy to forget there was once a time when danger lurked in many corners and tourists were actually terrified to come here. (What many hard-core, long-time New Yorkers quite seriously refer to as “the good old days.”) Echeverria’s portrait of this barrio is indeed gritty, reminding us of what existed before Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s great clean-up, which many insist has robbed the city of its distinctive favor and turned it into one big, boring mall. Los Sures characters are most compelling for their survival tactics. Evelyn, in particular, radiates an intelligence and humanity that is the fim’s most memorable takeaway. “Los Sures is tough,” she says. “If you can survive Los Sures, you can survive anything. Because Los Sures is love.” Who knows? Perhaps some man-bunned, bearded hipster in a porkpie hat may see this film and appreciate his neighborhood’s roots, still slightly extant in its few surviving bodegas and original residents hailing from a time before it was possible to get a $20 cocktail and $200 haircut.

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