Like Maria Full of Grace (another Sundance-spawned pobreza drama written and directed by a white guy), Christopher Zalla’s debut has economic desperation down to a science of shaky-cam grittiness and writerly contrivance. Sangre de Mi Sangre—retitled from the too Maria-like Padre Nuestro—sets up its conflict on an illegal truck ride across the Mexican border: Juan (Hernández), a lucky petty thief, finds himself accidentally tossed in with the émigrés, a group that includes easy mark Pedro (Espíndola), on a quest to New York City to meet the rich papi he never knew.
Crafty Juan steals Pedro’s identity (along with a letter from home with the father’s address) and ingratiates himself with skeptical, fiercely private Diego (Mexico’s fine character actor Ochoa), more of a dishwasher and a loser than the success story he’s been talked up as. Meanwhile, Pedro gives chase, picking up homeless sex-trader Magda (Mendoza) along the way.
All of these characters have predictable lessons to learn—about the power of makeshift families and of love, inserted between liberal-minded pokes at the ribs of self-satisfied America.
It’s not that Sangre doesn’t work; it’s that it works way too smoothly for material this ostensibly raw. Williamsburg’s waterfront comes off authentically, as does Ochoa’s loner dad, awakening to parental responsibility but lacking the language for it. But mostly, this smacks of instaguilt artificiality: as if Luis Buñuel wrote Los Olvidados during a cushy, latte-infused stay at Robert Redford’s ski lodge.