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Sweet story on mean streets

May 23, 2008|Kevin Thomas, Mark Olsen, Gary Goldstein

Christopher Zalla's "Sangre de Mi Sangre" (Blood of My Blood) is a great, impassioned immigrant odyssey in which the desperation of illegal immigrants to make it across the Mexico border at any cost drives a compelling, suspenseful fable of innocence and betrayal. Juan (Armando Hernandez) and Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola) arrive in New York City in a tractor-trailer packed with undocumented immigrants. Naive Pedro has shown his cunning new friend a sealed letter from his mother that is to serve as a letter of introduction to the father he never knew, whom he believes to be the prosperous proprietor of a French restaurant. Pedro awakens to find that Juan has stolen his belongings along with the precious letter.

Assuming Pedro's identity, Juan discovers that Pedro's father Diego (Jesus Ochoa) is but a restaurant kitchen worker who rejects him outright, letter or no letter. But Juan, a con man as facile as he is desperate, displays a terrier's tenacity in his determination to attach himself to Diego. In the meantime, the sweetly feckless Pedro tries to latch on to the coke-sniffing street prostitute Magda (Paola Mendoza) for help in finding his father. Shot mainly in New York's meanest, murkiest streets, "Sangre de Mi Sangre," is intricately and imaginatively structured, building to a powerful climax of complex irony.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Sangre de Mi Sangre." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. At the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


Culture clash in inner Mongolia

Wang Quan An's "Tuya's Marriage" exudes an infectious vitality as it vigorously plays humor against pathos amid the raw splendor of the steppes of inner Mongolia. Beneath the liveliness of the film's hearty, earthy spirit, Wang reveals how the caring communal traditions of a harsh, ancient way of life are endangered by the encroachment of the highly impersonal, often ugly modern world. Tuya (Yu Nan) is a strong, resilient wife and mother whose beloved husband's crippled condition has, after three years, forced her to accept that she must divorce him and remarry to provide security for herself and her young children. The only condition: Her husband must stay within the new family, a proposition that sends Tuya off on a daunting quest.

"Tuya's Marriage" is thoroughly gratifying in its consistent inventiveness and has a grasp of human nature so universal that there's no feeling of the exotic about the film and its people.

-- K.T.

"Tuya's Marriage." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. At the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; One Colorado Cinemas, 42 Miller Alley, Pasadena, (626) 744-1224; the Rancho Niguel, 25471 Rancho Niguel Rd., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-4359.


'Heavy Metal' meets war

Directed and produced by Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is about just that, the struggles of the one and only (according to the film) heavy metal band in the beleaguered, war-torn capital of Iraq. In 2005, Moretti and Alvi assisted the band, called Acrassicauda, in putting on what would be their last show to date in the city. More than a year after that they all met face to face. The film's footage was shot under dangerous conditions that are oddly hilarious only in safe retrospect, so its ragged shaky-cam construction can be forgiven after the heart-and-soul dedication of the band members begins to come through in hi-def, rock-solid clarity.

More than just another Iraq-doc, "Heavy Metal" is a surprisingly up-close look at the toll of the war on young people, and how they still have dreams and still want to jam, party and get down. If "Once" was about the romance of creativity, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is about the total, unrelenting obsession. They have no choice. They must rock.

-- Mark Olsen

"Heavy Metal in Baghdad." Unrated. 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500.


A chronicle of Jews, oppression

It's astounding to think a mere two decades ago, before the Iron Curtain fell, 1.5 million Jews living in the former Soviet Union were unable to emigrate to their country of choice. How that reprehensible fact came to be and the 30-year international human rights struggle that followed, is stirringly chronicled in Laura Bialis' documentary "Refusenik."

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