Good ambiguity is a film that enthralls audiences and yet, manages to give a variety of pleasures. That’s “Padre Nuestro,” a wonderful Spanish-language debut from writer/director Christopher Zalla and arguably the best dramatic feature I’ve watched so far at the festival. My initial response would be to call “Padre Nuestro” an immigration drama, one grittier and a notch more tragic than the recent Sundance movie “Maria Full of Grace.”
Pedro (Jorge Adrian Espindola) is a young Mexican who travels to New York City with a group of other illegal immigrants under grueling conditions. He has a letter and locket from his deceased mother and the home address to Diego (Jesus Ochoa), the father he’s never met. Pedro befriends Juan (Armando Hernandez), another young man searching for a new, better life in America. But Juan has stolen Pedro’s letter and the race to contact Diego is underway, between his real son and a dangerous con-man.
“Padre Nuestro” captures the Latino street life of New York City equally vibrant to the way Carlos Reygadas (“Battle in Heaven“) captures Mexico City. cinematographer Igor Martinovic‘s dark colors are a perfect match to the sad circumstances of its heroic voyager. The stark New York City locations, from a cramped restaurant kitchen to a Latino dime-a-dance club, all contribute to the film’s artful shine.
But the engine that powers “Padre Nuestro’s” beautiful photography, authentic characters and Spanish dialogue is a gripping journey more exciting, violent and suspenseful than any ordinary immigrant story.
Jesus Ochoa, a mountain of man whose stubbly chin reflects his prickly personality, is the emotional rock that supports “Padre Nuestro.” In his large hands and authoritative personality, one understands the strengths necessary to scratch out a living in a new country, one where you don’t speak the language. Jorge Adrian Espindola, recognizable for his role in “The Three Burials of Melquiades,” is a hero one can love. He’s handsome, charismatic, a believable innocent. You want Pedro to succeed no matter how many bad mistakes he makes. Paola Mendoza, as a drug addict who helps Pedro, captures the grit and bitterness of a life-turned-bad.
But it’s Armando Hernandez who rises above his talented co-stars and gives a performance every bit as rich and complex as the film. Juan is a villain, a thief intent on robbing Diego of the money he keeps hidden. Yet, despite his bad deeds, Hernandez hints at the humanity that lies beneath his lies. Juan is a man desperate to survive. More importantly, he appears to be a man capable of redemption. It’s a plot point that clearly comes from Zalla’s unforgiving script but it’s Hernandez’s performance that makes us believe it’s possible.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.
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