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Coyote Ugly 

A Compelling Immigrant Story Is At The Center Of Sangre De Mi Sangre

To say Oberlin graduate Christopher Zalla's Sangre de Mi Sangre (Blood of My Blood), also released as Padre Nuestro (Our Father), is a thriller about identity theft is like saying Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados is a gang-actioner. But that's become the shorthand for this U.S.-made Spanish-language indie feature, which Zalla will introduce when it screens at the Cinematheque as part of the Cleveland Institute of Art's Kacalieff Lecture Series. The long version is: Two hard-luck teenagers fleeing Mexico are brought by "coyotes" (smugglers) along with a load of other illegals to New York City. One, Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola), clings to a sliver of hope that he will join Diego, the father he's never seen, a parent who, as per descriptions by Pedro's late (and apparently none too trustworthy) mother, thrives in Brooklyn as a successful chef-owner of a French restaurant. The other boy, Juan (Armando Hernandez), doesn't even have that much going for him. In a moment of panic, he robs Pedro of the letter that points the way to Diego and goes to find the adult himself, pretending to be the son.

Diego (Jesus Ochoa) turns out to be no Food Network sensation but rather a gruff dishwasher, living and working alongside other kitchen-slave Hispanics without a green card and hoarding away practically every penny of his meager earnings as he dwells in miserly squalor. Diego disavows having any son at all, but persistent, parasitic Juan/Pedro works on him relentlessly to gain a toehold on shelter and sustenance. Meanwhile, the real Pedro (who, like Juan, speaks no English) gets a rough education in the N.Y.C. streets, hooking up with a crack whore (Paola Mendoza) as his guide/translator in the now-desperate search for his father.

The tragic-outcome-with-a-twist is like a cautionary folk-parable from the barrio. It's easy to forget you're in America with Sangre de Mi Sangre, which is shot in hand-held natural light much of the time. Except for a few views of the distant Manhattan skyline, America's iconic metropolis looks like any crumbling concrete Third World ghetto, a cauldron of humanity jammed with ethnic minorities fighting to get by, living in squats or simply getting hosed off the sidewalks every morning. While the plot developments may get a wee bit manipulative, the performers don't strike any false notes. Even at 110 minutes, you're not ready for this story to end and rightfully haunted when it does.

film@clevescene.com

More by Charles Cassady Jr.

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