My Life Inside

My Life Inside


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Rosa Estela Olvera took the ‘wetback’ way out of Mexico and into Texas in 1999, when she was just 17 – crossing the Rio Grande to Austin in search of a better life. She found a loving husband and started a family, but tragedy was to strike when, in 2003, one of the children that she acted as a childminder for, choked on a wad of paper towels and died.

Rosa finds herself catapulted into a justice system she has virtually no knowledge of and faced with unspoken prejudice as a presumption of guilt seems more attractive to law enforcement than an assumption of innocence. Lucía Gajá’s camera follows Rosa through the American justice system, intercutting evidence from her trial with interviews from her jail cell six months before, and testimony from her family.

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Rosa explains how she has taught herself English ‘on the inside’ since no one speaks Spanish and it soon becomes clear that the system is, while not necessarily corrupt, heavily stacked against those of Mexican origin. The prosecution at her trial insist she forced the towels into the child’s throat, yet there were no visible signs of the little boy having been held down or injured in any other way. The defence, meanwhile, contest that the boy was sucking on the towels himself when they became lodged in his airway and that, unwittingly, police and paramedics pushed the blockage further in when they administered mouth-to-mouth without checking first.

Reasonable doubt hangs in the air like a fog, as does a latent racism – for example, Rosa is asked if she is ‘smart, for a Mexican’. Certainly Rosa’s story has implications for the justice system on a wider scale but it is a shame Gaja didn’t widen out her scope. There is no real input from the prosecutors – or justice system as a whole – at all, which is a problem, since in order to show an argument is strong, both sides need to actively participate in a debate. The film also lacks a sense of scale – it is difficult to gauge how widespread this problem is when the only evidence we are given comes in the form of opinion for those working for justice for Mexicans. While there is nothing wrong with a fly-on-the-wall attitude to documentary making, more facts and a little number-crunching would go a long way to bolstering Gaja’s argument – particularly as this has a long runtime for a documentary, clocking up at two hours.

As a snapshot of a system with problems it is fine, but it would be far more compelling if the details were fleshed out.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2008
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Documentarian tracks an illegal Mexican immigrant as she is tried for murder.

Director: Lucía Gajá

Writer: Lucía Gajá

Starring: Rosa Estela Olvera

Year: 2007

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Mexico

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