If, in a summer film, two Americans were mistaken for each other, it would probably be an Adam Sandler comedy. In the Spanish-language film Sangre de Mi Sangre, the contrivance has a bleaker outcome but could be just as tough to believe. It is the unfortunate fate of Pedro (Jorge Adrián Espíndola), on his way to New York from Mexico in the back of a dark trailer, to meet Juan (Armando Hernández), who deftly picks Pedro's brain and pockets clean of the materials Juan will need to run off with the other's identity. As tempting as it is to write the scenario off as unlikely coincidence, strong performances by Espíndola and Hernández make it easier to take the characters and their situation seriously.
Both roles, though intended to be polar opposites, are alike in their depth and nuance. Pedro and Juan are supposed to be easily identifiable yet, because they are characters that are in some ways symbolic, must be slippery enough to seem real. We meet the enigmatic Juan first; he is on the run, jumping aboard a smuggling truck to evade his pursuers. Gaining Pedro's confidence, Juan learns Pedro is on his way to meet his father, with a letter of introduction and other proof to help them get acquainted. Juan runs off with this information, hoping to pretend to be the father's son and, we suspect, eventually steal the fortune Pedro and his own imagination have concocted.
Pedro, waking to find himself so gulled, can only wander Brooklyn's neighborhoods helplessly as the film cuts between two immigrant experiences and their stark similarities. Both characters face harassment, indifference, hunger, shame, and temptation; the divergence is perspective. Juan, always on the take, often manages to turn the situation to his advantage, while Pedro, trying to be honest, usually loses in some way.
Although the two actors are relatively unknown this side of the border, they are well respected in their home country of Mexico, and it's easy to see why. Though Juan and Pedro's situations might sometimes be overly broad, Hernández and Espíndola modulate their performances so their characters' subtleties come through. What might have been a boring morality tale ends up a much more interesting study of pressure applied to character because the actors use unpredictable emotions and human frailties.
The two actors are helped tremendously by a solid supporting cast -- including Jesús Ochoa as Pedro's dishwashing, money-grubbing father, Diego, and Paola Mendoza as a junkie named Magda who pretends to help Juan while bleeding him dry of money. Like their counterparts, Ochoa and Mendoza seem intent on keeping us guessing about their characters. Just when we learn to love them, Diego and Magda are apt to do something horrible to Pedro and Juan or to themselves. Nothing is safe, and no one is trustworthy in the world created by writer-director Christopher Zalla, even for the audience. That is a testament not only to this worthy film but to the skillful performances that make it work.
Written and directed by: Christopher Zalla.
Starring: Armando Hernández, Jorge Adrián Espíndola, Jesús Ochoa, Paola Mendoza.