In life, many individuals are encouraged to work hard to receive an excellent outcome for their determination. Schools usually push for a straight A’s plan. Businesses want to make more money by attracting more clients. Sports require focus and perseverance to achieve trophies and titles. Hence, the rewards are the “fruits of one’s labor.” Director Emily Cohen Ibanez crafts a powerful documentary titled after the phrase mentioned itself, and it rewards viewers with a biting sense of reality.
The story focuses on 18-year-old Ashley in her last year of high school. She works on a farm with her family but is concerned about graduating because she’s too exhausted from working night shifts by packing strawberries to attend day classes. She doesn’t have much assistance from her siblings, and her mother, Beatriz, is an undocumented immigrant. The worst part is if she gets deported, Ashley will be the sole source of support for her siblings.
Ashley herself is a considerate person, but that doesn’t prevent her from enjoying the small things about life. She hikes in the woods, chooses a prom dress, and enjoys the seaside while also dealing with her work/school business. Heck, she’s even taking away time from her life to supporting one brother and the woman he impregnated.
In this 78-minute feature, Ibanez doesn’t follow the methodical route by detailing the stresses of living in poverty or being on the government’s radar. She follows a path like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, where the beauty of Ashley’s world becomes understood and appreciated. The quiet, intimate film settles down on the focus of a flower or animal (like a turtle) or even the protagonist’s shoes. It’s reminiscent of the cinematography in other works, notably The Night of the Hunter. Everything encompasses the family life Ashley deals with daily.
The content, at times, is intriguing but a little patchy. It’s more so explained instead of a visual experience at times. And the story misses out on some intel to give the family and Ashley some much-needed optimism.
Nonetheless, the feature stays strong and suggests Ibanez has serious potential in the future field of film. A solid musical score amplifies the documentary’s narrative, and the material reflects a truthful nature of today’s world, regardless of the setting or time.
Fruits of Labor, indeed, comes with trustful rewards.