The film opens -- in a dream.
It’s a summer night on Catalina Island, 1952. FAUSTO TEJADA, the main character, dances with his beautiful wife, EVA, in the splendor of the Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Elegant couples surround them, waltzing to the music of a large orchestra.
Suddenly, the band quickens to a Latin beat. Fausto and Eva, in their young thirties, launch into a ferocious tango. The dreamy mood turns “magically real” as DEATH taps Eva on the shoulder, dancing her away from a terrified Fausto.
The squawk of Fausto’s parrot, TICO, brings us to the present and to the face of the dreamer: Fausto is an old man. His feeble head is being cranked into a sitting position. But his ailing heart cannot keep his spirit from soaring. From his bedroom in East Los Angeles, Fausto’s mind blurs the realities of time and space.
Memory takes us back a few years. The sound of a joyful Mexican ranchera fills Fausto’s home. He dances alone and prepares for one of his forays into the city. Wearing his dead wife’s pink cape, a battered fedora and carrying a gardener’s hoe, he takes to the busy streets of his beloved L.A.
Like Don Quixote, Fausto meets with numerous colorful characters who are eventually transformed by his belief in them.
Typical of his encounters, Fausto meets two very hip teenage girls at a bus stop. His pink cape flapping in the breeze, Fausto plops himself down on the bench between them. Between loud pops of chewing gum, he cleverly teaches the girls that beauty comes from self-respect, not from heavy makeup and a bottle of bleach.
Watching from his seat on the bus, a handsome young homeboy, MARIO, is not impressed by the old man’s outdated style. With a distinctive flair of his own, Mario chides, “It’s the cape, man. It’s not the thing to wear when you’re trying to score.” In time, the two odd companions become fast friends. Mario even teaches Fausto how to low-ride in a stolen Buick.
At home, CARMELA, Fausto’s loving daughter devotes her life to caring for her father. Even her insurance salesman boyfriend, JESSE, plays second fiddle to the father she adores. Together with her nine-year-old son, DANNY, they take care of the old man. Eventually, Carmela’s own story -- the secret of her birth -- is unraveled by a mystical and respected character named CUCA.
Even the ghost of his wife, Eva, pays Fausto bedside visits. She playfully admonishes Fausto for watching the pretty girls at the beach and for wasting too much time taking care of wetbacks. Loving, yet patient, Eva wants Fausto to relinquish his fierce spirit. She loves him passionately and wants him to join her in the afterlife. Fausto’s heart aches for Eva, but he loves life too. He asks her to wait a little longer. HE STILL HAS WORK TO DO!
On one of his journeys through Elysian Park, Fausto befriends FLACO HUANCA, a homeless man and an immigrant from Peru. He takes Flaco home to live with his family. Flaco, a shepherd in his native country, is wise beyond his limited education. He adores Old Fausto with all his heart, and their sweet friendship eases Fausto’s anxiety about dying. Together the two misfits take a ride in a stolen car, create havoc on a film set and get involved in the middle of an INS raid on a restaurant. The INS carts Flaco away; and Fausto is left – without his beloved friend – to fend for other immigrants looking for work.
A lovelorn neighbor, Mrs. Renteria, is accidentally killed by a bullet meant for young Mario. This untimely death sickens Fausto, quickening his illness. His time on earth is up! His body leaves his soul, yet his indomitable spirit ends up at the beach, where he meets up, at last, with his beautiful wife, Eva. Flaco and the other cast of quirky characters – both “dead” and “alive” – are there as well.
Magically, we’re on the set of another movie; and Fausto is in the director’s chair. The weather is idyllic. Lovers, friends and enemies are reunited. At last, Fausto and Eva, dance on the beach. They kiss passionately as their bare feet splash little ripples on the shore. Tico, the parrot, squawks joyfully into the breeze. Life and death are two sides of the same reality.
Old Fausto manages to orchestrate his afterlife as an idealized version of the way he has lived – FULL OF LIFE!