Fresh out of prison, Bambi, a 21-year-old, returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles looking for a fresh start. While in prison, Bambi took solace in writing about his harsh upbringing and experiences, serving as his escape. Now out, Bambi wishes to stay on the right path, looking to reconnect with his young son and make a better life for both of them. Malik Vitthal's Imperial Dreams is a film that doesn't mince words in capturing the hoplessness of inner-city ghettos, but what sets it apart, is the underlying sense of hope and optimism that exists, centered around Bambi, a man desperate to create a better life for his son. Using Bambi's plight, Imperial Dreams captures the invisible barriers the inner-city lifestyle, showing how difficult it truly is to get out. Without financial resources it's a constant struggle for Bambi, who is routinely tempted by the promise of "quick and easy" money that exists in the drug trade, most notably by his own uncle who wants his help. Presenting a genuine depiction of rehabilitation, Imperial Dreams captures the extreme difficulties of this process, from the need to cut oneself off from all friends and family still involved in illegal activies, to the hypocritical system of tangled bureaucracy that seems to hurt as much as it helps. While a powerful expose of inner city life in its own right, Imperial Dreams is also a poignant father-son story, with Bambi doing as best he can to make sure his son doesn't grow up in the same violence and despair. Imperial Dreams treats this relationship with respect, never using the young boy for emotional manipulation, simply letting the relationship unfold organtically, which only makes the film more poigant towards the end. Thematically, Imperial Dreams tells it how it is but unlike most similar films it doesn't wallow in despair, subverting typical narrative conventions in offering a glimmer of hope. Imperial Dreams exclaims that rehabilitation and getting out of the ghetto is incredibly tough, admitting the whole system isn't fair, while still arguing it's possible to make oneself better, despite the obstacles. Bambi is a character who suffers a lot throughout the course of this narrative and when we leave this character his life isn't exactly peachy but what makes Imperial Dreams so poignant is it subtle does capture how it's headed in the right direction, and Bambi can find happiness in that fact.
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