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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
The title "Sin Nombre" translates as "without a name." See more »
The teardrop tattoo on el Casper's right eye is missing in two consecutive scenes on the top of the train but is visible on his face throughout the movie both before and after these scenes on the train. Interestingly, the tattoo is an important identifying mark/symbol in the movie and is specifically highlighted by gang members when asking locals if they have seen Casper as they try to find him and hunt him down. 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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A film of heartbreaking sadness but also one of joy and redemption
In Sin Nombre, first-time writer-director 31-year-old Cary Joji Fukanaga has crafted a uniquely moving film experience that dramatizes with authenticity the drive among the poor in Latin America to pull up roots and seek a better life in the U.S. Transcending genres and styles, Sin Nombre, translated "without a name", is performed by mostly non-professional local actors whose weathered faces mirror the harsh realities of their life. The film is shot by cinematographer Adriano Goldman with 35mm film rather than digital-video which is today's norm and avoids stylistic clichés such as hand-held cameras and dizzier-than-thou fast cutting.
Opening in Tapachula in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico with a saturated color palette of deep red and orange, the trajectory of this low-budget, but beautifully shot thriller follows two parallel threads that meet in the middle. It begins with the initiation of a new member into the Mara Salvatrucha gang, in this case, a twelve year old boy called Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) who has been recruited into the gang by young Willy aka Casper (Edgar Flores). Smiley must endure a gang ritual where he is thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten thirteen times to prove his toughness. As if that is not enough, the pre-teen is then forced to shoot a prisoner from the Chavalas, a rival gang.
Breaking the rules, Willy takes Smiley with him to meet his secret girlfriend Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia) but the clandestine meeting ends when sadistic gang leader, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) finds out about it and tries to rape her with tragic consequences. In the second thread, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teenager is reunited with her father and decides to join him and her uncle on a perilous journey to New Jersey to meet other family members. In a powerful scene, they join other immigrants at a train crossing and then climb to the top of the railroad car of a passing train to begin the journey. One of the many dangers they face is that of being robbed by gangs or other poor Latinos who think they must have huge sums of money.
In this case, the robbers are Casper and Smiley who have been ordered to join Lil' Mago. When the leader tries to rape Sayra, however, Casper takes action which ensures that his future and that of Sayra will be inextricably linked. To reach the U.S., Sayra and Willy, now drawn together out of mutual need and attraction, have to overcome the network of covert operatives employed by the Mara gang, the danger of the border patrols, and the ordinary Mexicans who throw rocks at them and put their journey in peril. Powerful performances by Gaitan and Flores create an electric chemistry that wraps our hearts around their struggle to find release from their troubled past.
Winner of awards for directing and cinematography at Sundance, Sin Nombre has been attacked by some critics because it is a story about the truth of poor people's lives wrapped in a conventional framework. In my view, that is precisely what gives the film its strength. It is not an easy task for any immigrant who wants to make it to America, and Sin Nombre alerts us to the dangers as well as the opportunities. It succeeds not only as education but as theater, allowing the viewer not only to understand the perils illegal immigrants face but to relate emotionally to them as human beings.
Fukanaga was not a criminal or an immigrant but knows full well that the common thread existing among all people is that of being able to dream of a new day for themselves and the people they love. He spent two years doing research among the Mara Salvatrucha gang based in Mexico and Los Angeles, and in riding on the top of freight cars with Honduran and Salvadorean immigrants headed towards the U.S. border. The result is both deeply moving in its poetry and off-putting in its violence, a film of heartbreaking sadness but also one of joy and redemption, one of the best so far of 2009.
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