Sangre de mi sangre

Igor Martinovic/IFC Films
Christopher Zalla/United States 2007

Christopher Zalla directs Sangre de mi sangre with an eye for Brooklyn’s dark, shadowy spaces, the steam rising from its abandoned streets at night and the crumbling impoverished apartments that line its less prolific boulevards. The film’s Williamsburg milieu owes more to the sort of depressed urban cityscape typical of dystopic film noir than it does the fairy-tale aesthetic ordinarily applied to cinematic depictions of New York City. The narrative that unfolds within the setting follows a segment of the city’s broad, multifarious population also atypically seen onscreen: its illegal immigrants.

The unique focus and the distinct visual aesthetic guarantee the film’s functionality as an entertainment. Disappointingly, Sangre de mi sangre never proves much more than that. The screenplay, also written by Zalla, too often succumbs to the convoluted vagaries of the thriller genre. It becomes enmeshed in unconvincing plot developments and features one wholly unnecessary character, each of which keeps it from working on much more than a base visceral level. It may well be, however, that the writer-director never really intended anything more.

Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola), a Mexican youth smuggled into the country so that he can travel to Brooklyn and meet the father he never knew, encounters fellow immigrant Juan (Armando Hernández) on the journey north. He tells Juan all about his plans and shows him a letter from his mother to his father as well as other personal items. Some time later, he awakens from a night’s sleep to find all his possessions gone, save for a locket. The rest of the picture interweaves Pedro’s attempts to find his father with Juan’s assumption of Pedro’s identity and ingratiation into the life of Pedro’s father Diego (Jesus Ochoa), a dishwasher at a local restaurant.

Zalla brings a palpable rhythmic energy to the proceedings, infusing the parallel plot lines with urgency. Awash with grim detail, as the characters’ lives teeter perpetually on a precarious brink, the movie draws you into its gritty otherworld. Even as it wastes time with Magda (Paola Mendoza), a wholly unconvincing prostitute/de facto tour guide and even as the plot twists in less than believable ways, Sangre de mi sangre consistently maintains the quick pacing and clear tension fundamental to any successful thriller. Thus, if one approaches the film without unreasonable expectations, in other words without reading too much into the Grand Jury Prize it won at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, it offers more consistent entertainment value than most of the summer Hollywood blockbusters.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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