In Sangre de mi Sangre, Christopher Zalla serves up an old-fashioned, sentimental weeper with a sucker punch of urban-immigrant horror. The movie centers on a father’s reunion with a son he never knew he had and how the two somehow break through each other’s calloused cynicism. The twist is that the teen is an impostor, Juan (Armando Hernández), who met the real son, Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola), in a tractor-trailer filled with undocumented Mexicans and stole his backpack and identity. In New York City, Juan talks his way into the squalid apartment of Pedro’s father, Diego (Jesús Ochoa), who he thinks has money stashed away, while Pedro, who’s illiterate and speaks no English, uses what cash he has to hire a trick-turning hophead, Magda (Paola Mendoza), to locate the restaurant where his dad works.
Zalla, a graduate of Columbia’s film school, is talented and single-minded. He needs to lighten up, literally. He frames his characters to bring out all their sweaty desperation, and his palette is dark with splashes of muddy brown; even the street scenes look as if they were shot in a dungeon. The director really piles on the grotesquerie. One look at Magda and you know she’s going to be violated in some disgusting way, and the climactic encounter between the true and bogus Pedros is surprising only because you don’t think Zalla will stoop to such a crude resolution. But he’s sensitive with his actors. The Mexican Ochoa usually plays corrupt cops (Denzel Washington blew him up real good in Man on Fire) and never gets too moist—which makes his final explosion of emotion more powerful. Hernández uses the same smart strategy. Juan’s feeling for his “father” comes from left field, and not through love but fury: He finds himself raging at Diego on behalf of the dead mother that wasn’t his. The nasty old man and the coldhearted thief are shocked by their connection. If only we hadn’t seen it limping toward us out of the darkness for so long.