The Movie Waffler New Release Review - CALIFORNIA WINTER (VOD) | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - CALIFORNIA WINTER (VOD)

A rookie real estate agent finds herself on the wrong side of the 2008 credit crisis.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Odin Ozdil

Starring: Elizabeth Dominguez, A Martinez, Walter Perez, Michael Ironside, Rutina Wesley, Erick Avari

The film’s bilingual dialogue is telling; Carlos’ ability to speak Spanish is prized by the bank, as it is Hispanic customers who are specifically embroiled in the loan system. Concerning these folk, California Winter performs no polemic; it simply and genuinely tells their story with heart.

Meet perky Clara Morales (Elizabeth Dominguez), a Californian real estate agent whose job shifting property to first time buyers is so easy that even on her very first day she proves to be a resounding success. Selling a home to a naïve young couple with such breezy imperatives as "the only question you have to ask yourself, is this the home where you want to live?", Carla doesn’t break a sweat as she encourages the purchase of risky loans and the makings of rash investments. Within her sun kissed surroundings, Clara would seem to have it all - great hair, buyers hanging on her every word, and a boss (veteran Erick Avari) who dotes on her. She appears as a princess in an out of kilter, upbeat fantasy - one that seemingly bears no relation to the contemporary housing market’s desperate actuality. And then – bam - with the discourtesy of a severe storm warning, an intertitle informs us that it is 2008; the credit crisis is only just beginning. Real life footage tells of the rapidly unfolding economic disaster, and it turns out that Clara is unwittingly at the eye of the hurricane.

Filmed in 2012, but only finding a release now (and, chronologically, beating the Oscar-contending financial crisis flick The Big Short by three years), California Winter is a story told in wincing hindsight. At the film’s opening, Clara has no idea of the trouble that she is setting her customers up for, of the lives that she is encouraging them to sign away (nor, for that matter, does she have a clue as to the ramifications of the credit loan she organises for her father, which she does only in order to pay for her dying mother’s medical bills). But as each financial plunge manifests in fresh ripples of defaulted loans and the threat of foreclosure, like millions of innocent and hardworking people, Carla experiences the crash all too acutely.

California Winter is not a horror film, but the dawning confusion and sense of helplessness the characters undergo as they stand to lose everything is recognisably terrifying (a side note - it is interesting that the horror genre circa 2007 took the haunted house as its threat du jour, with films such as Paranormal Activity and Insidious featuring young homebuyers battling against toxic living spaces that had it in for them).

The film’s style fittingly sticks to the saturated verisimilitude of a television movie (the NBC logo is prominent amongst the credits), a look entirely suitable to these lower middle class characters, un-fussily depicting their everyday environments. Similarly, in the same way that Titanic doesn’t go into detail on the geological structure of glaciers, the film makes no attempt to explain the byzantine machinations of the disintegrating economy, reflecting the creeping bewilderment that people experienced in those years. Instead we see a fraught Clara forced to perpetuate the system: because if she doesn’t make coin, her house will be foreclosed, her father’s loan won’t be honoured, etc. Could there be a saviour in the form of hunky Carlos (Walter Perez), the love interest banker, perhaps waving a magic calculator to solve Clara’s troubles?

Well, no, as it turns out. Even though it may look that way, California Winter isn’t that type of movie. As we and the film know, there were no easy answers to the credit crisis, with its sinister consequences still felt today (as a closing credit soberly informs us).

There is a subplot with the wonderful Michael Ironside as a Sheriff tasked with the unenviable job of evicting foreclosed tenants. Ironside is formidable, but he’s often had a kind aspect to his persona (see his iconic role as Ham in another telly movie: V) and we see both sides of his temperament here, as, like Clara, Ironside’s character is also resigned to serving the very structure that is causing such disruption. These victims are not criminals, and were not greedy - they simply acted upon the advice of the culture. The film’s bilingual dialogue is telling; Carlos’ ability to speak Spanish is prized by the bank, as it is Hispanic customers who are specifically embroiled in the loan system. Carlos, Clara and her family, neighbour Marcy (True Blood’s Rutina Wesley) are all second/third generation immigrants whose people followed the American Dream, buying into and contributing to a system that has ultimately exploited them and let them down. Concerning these folk, California Winter performs no polemic; it simply and genuinely tells their story with heart.
Help support The Movie Waffler by sharing this post