Crossing the U.S. border illegally comes with its own unique paranoia and feelings of "otherness," but once immigrants arrive in the States, they can often find strength in numbers, by nestling into one of the cities-within-cities that exist apart from the American mainstream. In Christopher Zalla's debut film, Sangre De Mi Sangre, two young Mexicans make their way to New York City and promptly get swallowed up by a thicket of ghettos, bodegas, vacant lots, and job sites. One of the boys, Armando Hernández, tries to get an edge by assuming the identity of the other boy, Jorge Adrian Espíndola, so he can con his way into the home of Espíndola's father, who's rumored to be a wealthy restaurant owner. In actuality, the dad (played by Jesús Ochoa) works in a kitchen, and does odd jobs to make ends meet—not all of them above-board. And while Ochoa is Espíndola's father, he doesn't remember the boy's mother all that well, because she was a one-night-stand that occurred under morally questionable conditions.
Sangre De Mi Sangre edges too close to leaden symbolism with its consideration of absent "fathers" and their lapses. (Zalla seems to be implying that if there is a God, He's kind of a loser.) And though the near-constant hand-held close-ups clearly emphasize the confined spaces of New York's immigrant community, they also lock the movie into a single mode and mood. Sangre De Mi Sangre is an exercise in misery, painting the immigrant life in America as every bit as bleak as what they were trying to escape. (And maybe even worse: Hernández is dismayed to discover that Ochoa has a black-and-white TV, while "back home, everyone has color.") The film seems even more one-note when compared to the recent indie feature Chop Shop, which also follows young immigrant hustlers in NYC, yet takes the time to provide a fuller picture of the city and its opportunities. Zalla prefers to wallow in the dead-end, an approach that's initially powerful, then numbing.