We watch films to be moved, informed, entertained, or simply to erupt in laughter.
Sometimes a film lest us experience all of those things. The independent film Hope Café does just that.
Starring veteran actor Noel Gugliemi (Fast and Furious) as Hector, Hope Café takes us first to Hector’s world: the gang and drug-infested streets of East Los Angeles. A small-time, street hustler, Hector falls in love with Jade—charmingly played by Los Angeles and New York model, and first-time director, Radhaa Nilia—a single mom trying to get back on her feet from an abusive relationship.
Since this is a faith-based family film, we are spared the customary violence of Hector’s street life, but not the dead-end futility of it. While Hector is trying to get away from his dealer life and his gangsta friends, Jade is trying to settle in a small town in Oregon and create a new life for herself and her estranged daughter.
Jade lands a job as a barista in a local café, and this is where the two young castaways meet. At first, Hector is charming, funny and nice, but his criminal past soon catches up with him, and Jade starts to seriously wonder if he is willing and able to leave his destructive habits behind. For Hector, Jade’s new-found faith in God is a challenge, but for the sake of his love, he is willing to give it a try.
The actors in Hope Café includes Asian superstar Raymond Bagatsing in a role as Hector’s Catholic priest. Bagatsing, who has won many acting awards in Asia, recently had a lead role next to French superstar Isabelle Huppert in Captive, a film directed by Cannes Film festival award winner Brilliante Mendoza.
What is lesser known about Bagatsing, but perhaps interesting to elephant readers, is that he has been a committed yogi and vegetarian for many years. Lead actress, as well as the director of the film, Radhaa Nilia, is also a practicing yogini and currently studying to become a yoga teacher in Los Angeles.
In addition to veteran gangsta actor Noel Gugliemi, the film also features F. Valentino Morales (The Ropes) as well as hip hop artist Cool in a supporting role as Hector’s drug boss.
This moving family drama, inspired by real events, is a stirring tribute to the endurance of faith and love. The film’s delightful indie appeal lies not only in its small town charm and its many quirky characters, but also, surprisingly, for me, in its faith-based, Christian values.
The film does not wear these values on its sleeve, however, but poignantly reveals them in small doses as a path toward personal redemption rather than a path toward everlasting salvation. In other words, it’s a film about how faith can be an integral aspect of personal transformation.
If the film has a social message, it is that hope, faith and love has the power to overcome our addictions to drugs, crime and violence. At least for some people faith has had that kind of power. The question is, of course, is faith enough to transform Hector, and to keep him and Jade together? That’s what this charming little film with a big heart is all about.
Ed: Brianna Bemel