Mariana and her children, Gabriel and Andrea, are stranded in New York City. Two weeks after her husband Antonio asked them to leave their native Colombia and join him in Queens after a lengthy separation, he left $50 in an envelope, headed for Miami, and stopped answering his phone. A family friend tells Mariana that he isn’t coming home.
Undocumented and completely broke, Mariana tries to sell homemade empanadas on the streets while also accepting random jobs as they come. On one occasion, she’s forced to leave the kids home alone while she goes out for a few hours to take day work as a dishwasher. Kids being kids, they lay around teaching each other curse words in English until a friend comes by with a better offer, and they all sneak out to take an illicit dip in an elderly neighbor’s pool. Racing home after they’re discovered and chased away by an angry old man, they’re only seconds ahead of their mother on the subway platform, who witnesses them out alone in public. Clearly terrified for her children’s safety and of the U.S. authorities, she barges into their tiny apartment moments after her children, shouting at Gabi that in this country, they take children away from their parents.
Though their circumstances are often dire, the bond depicted between Mariana, Andrea, and Gabriel is remarkable. Overcoming a seemingly endless stream of difficulties along the way, Gabi pitches in to help the family survive, collecting cans when Mariana is too sick or exhausted to do it herself. And while the ways in which Mariana sacrifices for her children are clear, there are also lovely examples like when she pays for the kids to see a movie together. The $21 entrance fee for three is a bit steep, but she can shell out enough for the two of them and makes them swear to meet her out front the moment the film is over. They shriek in agreement as they race into the air-conditioned building as she calls after them, "Te quiero!"
Co-director Paola Mendoza is largely responsible for honoring the depictions of the struggling immigrant mother and her young children; the story is based on her own family’s struggle, a tribute to her mother. Entre Nos is very visually pleasing, expertly edited and strikingly beautiful despite the pain it depicts. Scenes of quintessential American poverty loom throughout, like neighbor women sharing at-home abortion tips on the sly or when the small family stands timidly outside the emergency room after Gabi hurt his leg until Mariana offers to “wash it at home” before they retreat back into the night. Whether they’re afraid of being deported or because they simply can’t afford the medical bills, the scene is an important reminder of how poverty and immigration are often deeply intertwined.
The film weaves themes of homelessness and the camaraderie of the streets with universal depictions of the strength and resilience of single mothers and their innocent, precocious children. It also reminds you that even if life as an undocumented immigrant seems unbearable, even if you want to go home, you may not be able to afford to turn around.