Movie Review: Sangre de Mi Sangre
By Tasha Robinson, Special to the Tribune
The New York City of Christopher Zalla's low-budget indie debut, "Sangre de mi Sangre," is a curiously hollow, lifeless place, so empty that two lost immigrants rattle around like peas in a pod, slamming into each other over and over. But while the city never feels real, and the plot is similarly artificial, Zalla and his cast find real emotion in the characters' situations, and his Sundance grand-jury winner is compelling and revolting in equal measure, right up to the abrupt, miserable end.
Zalla opens mid-scene, with a young Mexican clutching a fistful of cash and fleeing a mob of angry pursuers. Ducking into a warehouse for cover, Juan (Armando Hernandez) stumbles across a border patrol smuggling ring and hands over his apparently ill-gotten loot to secure a spot in a truck crossing into America. En route to New York City, he meets another boy, Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola), who's carrying a letter of introduction to the rich Brooklyn restaurant-owner father he's never met. Without missing a beat, Juan pumps his companion for background information, then steals the letter, heads to Brooklyn and presents himself to the father, Diego (Jesus Ochoa), as Pedro.
"Sangre de mi Sangre" plays out like a clever one-act play, disguising the bare stage and lack of extras by embedding itself in character conflict and a series of dramatic twists. Where Juan was expecting a quick con job and a life on a mythical American Easy Street, he finds that Diego is a cold, practical dishwasher with no use for a son. Meanwhile, Pedro wanders the streets and takes up with a conniving junkie (Paola Mendoza), who repeatedly plays him for a fool until he absorbs her moral teachings, to devastating effect.
Juan and Pedro's paths cross far more often than seems likely, giving the story a limited, contrived feel; while Pedro crisscrosses the vast city in search of his dad, the action never seems to leave the same airless, gray neighborhood. But the acting is impeccable, with Hernandez radiating an air of sleazy charm and Ochoa doing terrific work as a bitter man who's just lonely enough to have chinks in his well-developed armor. And Zalla keeps the tension high through a taut story rather than through manipulative, obtrusive thriller direction. A bigger budget might have helped him flesh out the film's two-dimensional world, but it's unlikely it could have found him actors that would do a more convincing, heartbreaking job of selling his mini-noir story.
No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for graphic sexual situations, nudity, profanity and suggested violence).
Running time: 1:51.
Starring: Jorge Adrian Espindola (Pedro); Armando Hernandez (Juan); Jesus Ochoa (Diego Gonzales); Paola Mendoza (Magda).
Directed and written by: Christopher Zalla; edited by Aaron Yanes; photographed by Igor Martinovic; music by Brian Cullman; production design by Tommaso Ortino; produced by Benjamin Odell and Per Melita. An IFC Films release. In Spanish with subtitles.