Honduran teenager Sayra reunites with her father, an opportunity for her to potentially realize her dream of a life in the U.S. Moving to Mexico is the first step in a fateful journey of unexpected events. Written by
Cary Fukunagra spent two years researching the film, spending time with people on the trains and with gangsters in Central America. He also used two gang members to script edit making the slang and language as up to date and realistic as possible See more »
Towards the end of the film, the city labeled as "Reynosa, Tamaulipas" is actually "Monterrey, Nuevo Leon." See more »
Back home, my friend Clarissa made me see this crazy neighbor, Doña Eleanor, you know, like witchcraft? She smoked this puro, then told me with her freaky voice that I'd make it to the U.S. but not in God's hand, perhaps in the Devil's.
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Let's call this film a documentary. Sure, these were actors following a script. But more importantly, it documents a segment of life that few readers in the developed world have any insight into.
For those who avoid graphic violence, I suggest reading the section on this site that describes specifically what it is, and shut your eyes selectively. I did; but still couldn't relax enough to have dinner afterward until I downed several shots of Scotch. I was shaken, my throat constricted, and imbued with a feeling that may be a mild dose of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But documentaries are like that. And when I read that the writer-director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, had actually lived with his subjects, and risked his life voluntarily, as they do out of routine necessity, I consider the least I can do is vicariously experience this reality. It is a reality that I see every day in the frightened eyes of those stunted young men congregating around "Home Depot" looking for a day's wages.
It reflects a life so mean, so violent, that the lawless Tijuana is a Nirvana compared to their home slums of Honduras and Guatemala. So first they come to Mexico, then ride the trains to the ultimate goal, America. In doing so they run a gauntlet of dangers that could only be conveyed in a dramatization such as this.
Empathy, compassion to all in our society, is a luxury for those born into a world where such emotion is the norm. Even in America's imperfect society, the rule of law predominates and the random violence is still newsworthy. The people in this film, especially the gang members had no such choice. These gangs provide a circle of affection and caring, but it is defined by the contrast between those who are their "homies" and the outsiders, the other gangs, for whom cruelty has no limits.
On a day trip last week to Baja California, we were stopped at a check point configured exactly like the one in the film. A single soldier in bullet proof vest surrounded by sand bags with a 50 caliber machine gun pointed at our car. My friend struck up a conversation with the guard; they both smiled, and we went on our way, to stop at a bakery right before crossing the border and heading to our home in Encinitas.
Similar check points; but for those refugees in "Sin Nombres" huddled in the empty car on the truck, their lives depended on not being seen. If they had been spotted, and then run out of fear, the machine gun would have killed them in a second, by soldiers hardened by the same violence they face.
My day trip to Mexico, while covering same type of territory, could not have been more different. I had my American Express Card and an American Passport, along with a cloak of protection by the norms of an ordered society. Those depicted in the film had none of this. Their lives were determined at the moment of their birth, with choices so limited that their desperate Odyssey to reach what was my birthright was their best available option .
This is an important film. Perhaps it should be edited with the more horrible graphic acts simply alluded to, to make it more accessible to a wider audience in America. While it provides no political prescription, it conveys an accurate picture of the reality of life just below our border.
If there is to be a political plan to addressing our "illegal immigrant" problem, at the least it should be informed by the road taken by those depicted in this powerful film.
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