Chilling journey

Christopher Zalla’s Padre Nuestro takes one through the grit and squalour
of the American underbelly, writes Ervell E. Menezes

Crossing borders, especially into the United States, are generally harrowing experiences touching new heights in despair. The one that readily comes to mind is Tony Richardson’s The Border with Jack Nicholson in the lead role as a cop and Elpida Carillo as the Mexican woman making the crossing.

Then there is also a Guatamelan-German documentary, Assaulted Dream by Uri Stelzner of the virtual hell immigrants go through getting into Mexico en route to the United States.

Padre Nuestro is another such drama which takes one through the grit and squalour of the American underbelly as these two Mexicans are bent on experiencing that great American dream.

Better known as Sangre de Mi Sangre (Blood of my Blood), the film has Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espinodola), an enthusiastic youth heading for New York with a group of men in the back of a truck where he is befriended by Juan (Armando Hernandez) and confides in him his plans.

But while he is asleep, Juan takes off with his bag and valuables, which also include a letter from Pedro’s mother providing proof of his paternity. On arrival in New York, Pedro sets out to find his father Diego (Jesus Ochoa) who is a dishwasher in a small run-down restaurant. But he has no credentials to prove. They are with Juan who is better able to makes his claim as his long forgotten son. So far, so good.

Spanish director Christopher Zalla does well to establish these different elements of the story. The fourth is Magda (Paolo Mendoza), a junkie in whom Pedro finds solace in the dregs of the New York society. The emotional element is searchingly dealt with as one comes across the utter disdain with which folks try to outdo one another. The duplicity is degrading, the ploys used degradable as they sink deep in the mire.

But Zalla could have done with some variety. He could have put in a sub-plot or interesting cameos. Instead, he dwells rather lingeringly on this foursome. The performances are powerful, deeply moving but there are loopholes in the plot and our two protagonists have a knack of missing each other too conveniently. The father Diego is paper-thin and credibility is a clear casualty. The last quarter the film runs out of ideas. But despite its flaws, Padre Neustro is a heart-warming, powerful yet chilling experience. It won the Grand Prize at the Sundance film festival and provides the viewer a peep into Spanish cinema, not easily available these days.