While Woody Allen, the cinematic bard of Manhattan, was off shooting in London and Barcelona, New York City served as Hollywood’s favorite movie set. It now seems obligatory to begin films with an aerial shot of the Manhattan skyline. However, Sangre de Mi Sangre approaches New York from a different angle – inside the crowded cargo hold of a truck smuggling undocumented aliens from Mexico. Its occupants emerge in a grungy section of Brooklyn, far from Rockefeller Center, the Plaza Hotel, Central Park, and other landmarks that have become standard props for thrillers and romantic comedies. Out of sight are the boutiques and bistros frequented by Carrie Bradshaw and other glamorati; if there is sex in this city, it is snatched from the street for $50 a trick. Spanish, not English, is the lingua franca here.
Inside the truck are two faces of Mexican immigration – one cherubic and the other thuggish. Good alien/bad alien. Earnest 17-year-old Pedro (Espíndola) carries letters and a locket from the father he has never seen but longs to meet and know. Juan (Hernández) carries a knife and a nasty scar from a brutal father whose legacy is contempt. By the time the truck is empty, Juan has stolen Pedro’s letters. He presents himself as son to Pedro’s father, while the real Pedro is left to wander the streets penniless and homeless.
For much of Sangre de Mi Sangre, first-time writer-director Christopher Zalla crosscuts between Pedro, desperately seeking his father on any of several 12th Streets in New York, and Juan, who gets his foot in the paternal door in order to get his hands on the old man’s money. Though Pedro’s late mother has brought him up to believe that his father is a prosperous restauranteur, it turns out that Diego Gonzalez (Ochoa) is merely a surly dishwasher. He lives alone in a Brooklyn hovel where, like a Mexican Silas Marner, he hoards the cash he slowly accumulates. “You’re just a bitter, frightened old man who cares only about himself,” says Juan, posing as Pedro, during the drama’s requisite moment of truth-telling. Diego — whose credo is: “The world is harsh” — trusts no one, particularly not a stranger who suddenly shows up claiming to be his son. For Diego, life is unremitting labor, whereas for his presumptive heir it is scam or be scammed. Yet, slowly, Diego begins to trust the cunning young con who fakes his way into his confidence but begins to be worthy of that misplaced confidence. At the same time, the real Pedro, forced to survive on the streets and tutored by a junkie hustler named Magda (Mendoza), adopts shady strategies more natural to Juan. Aimed from opposite directions, Juan and Pedro become diagonal vectors destined to meet and collide.
All of which is to say that the geometrical formula governing Sangre de Mi Sangre is sentimental and predictable, at odds with the film’s greatest strength – its evocation of urban immigrant hell. After 22 years in the great northern metropolis, Diego ought to be living the American Dream. Yet Juan is appalled by his shoddy TV set. “Black-and-white!” he exclaims. “Even at home everyone has color.” •