Rufino (Luis Fernando Pena) is fifteen going on about thirty. He’s gotten rather good at surviving on Mexico City’s mean streets, but wants to escape the life of odd jobs and petty crime that marks the only existence he’s ever known. Risking his life by ripping off illicit cash that belongs to Ochoa (Mario Zaragoza), a sadistic crooked cop, Rufino decides it’s time to realize his dream of escaping to the ocean. When the day arrives that he and his girlfriend Xochitl (Maya Zapata) are supposed to leave, however, a jabbering old hermit tells him his supposedly dead father is in fact alive. His desire to find his father before he leaves wins out and, with Xochitl faithfully waiting for him in a city park, Rufino embarks on a persistent — and potentially lethal — quest to track him down.
“Streeters” is definitely not the kind of film the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce would want you to see. Director Gerardo Tort paints an unrelentingly grim and depressing tale of corruption, homelessness, drug abuse and abject poverty. The filth and stench of Rufino and Xochitl’s land of sewer-dwelling urchins fairly oozes from the screen; a raw, cruel, survival of the fittest world. All dingy browns and dirty grays, Tort’s bleak tragedy thrives on the inexorable sense of impending doom. That Pena’s Rufino is so idealistic and Zapata’s Xochitl so winsome only adds to the sense of dread.
A tawdry and gritty tour through a Mexican ghetto that gradually sucks the viewer’s soul away rather than sends him or her on a gripping roller coaster ride of suspense, “Streeters” does a slow burn as it spirals towards its wrenching conclusion.