Winner of the 2007 Sundance Grand Jury Prize under its original title, PADRE NUESTRO, New York City-based filmmaker Christopher Zalla's debut feature is an intriguing, if flawed mystery set in the shadowy subterranean world of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Running from an armed gang through the streets of some Mexican city, young Juan (FAST FOOD NATION's Armando Hernandez) ducks into a doorway and onto a tractor trailer filled with men, women and children who are about to be secreted across the border into the United States. Among them is Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola), an illiterate, good-natured 17-year-old from the southern city of Puebla who hopes to reunite with Diego Martinez, the father he has never met: Diego left Mexico twenty years earlier to seek his fortune in the United States and returned just once three years later, just long enough to impregnate his wife, Pedro's mother. Carrying a letter of introduction with his father's address on the envelope, Pedro now hopes to begin a new life in New York City, where his now deceased mother told him Diego owns his own restaurant. But when the truck pulls into an empty Brooklyn lot, Pedro awakens to find the letter and all his money are long gone, and so is Juan. Desperate, broke and unable to speak a word of English, Pedro wanders the streets hoping to remember his father's address and eventually falls in with Magda (ON THE OUTS's Paola Mendoza), a drug-addicted street peddler and prostitute who speaks Spanish and promises to help Pedro find his father -- for a price. With the letter in hand and its details committed to memory, Juan shows up at Diego's (Jesus Ochoa) run-down apartment building claiming to be his lost long son, and quickly realizes that Pedro's mother wasn't telling the truth: far from being a restaurant owner, Diego works is a dishwasher and prep cook; to make extra cash, he sews fabric flowers at 50 cents a piece. At first, Juan's ruse backfires. Diego wants nothing to do with the son of a woman who, while happily spending the money he'd been sending home each month, cheated on him, but Juan is persistent: Ever the small-time hustler and thief, Juan knows Diego has socked away his saving somewhere in his squalid apartment and is determined to get his hands on all of it. Pedro's perseverance eventually pays off, and Diego even begins to take a kind of pride in his clever, good looking "son." Pedro, meanwhile, is growing increasingly desperate, and with Magda as his guide, begins to slide deeper into the city's seedy underbelly.
The film is stylishly shot on the streets of New York City and the acting is superb all around: Ochoa, a veteran actor of tough-guy roles is an inspired choice -- the scene in which he takes Juan out drinking with his restaurant coworkers is beautifully played -- and Espindola and Hernandez are both excellent. The plot, however, encounters a serious glitch close to the end with a crucial scene that depends upon an unconvincing psychological transference: Juan suddenly begins to speak to Diego as if this stranger were his real father, of whom we know next to nothing except that he left Juan with little more than a switchblade and a nasty scar when he was still a child. To further explore issues of identity, Zalla sacrifices the credibility he worked so hard to establish, all to the detriment of the film's denouement: What should have been a powerful final moment is simply confounding.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: Winner of the 2007 Sundance Grand Jury Prize under its original title, PADRE NUESTRO, New York City-based filmmaker Christopher Zalla's debut feature is an intriguing, if flawed mystery set in the shadowy subterranean world of undocumented Mexican immigran… (more)