As seen at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival:
Fukunaga’s first feature, Sin Nombre, captures the grit
and brutality of life in Latin America far more authentically
than this decade’s overrated critical darlings on the subject,
Maria Full of Grace and City of God. Whereas those
films sacrificed realism by indulging in overwrought stylistic
techniques to convey their messages, Fukunaga’s film uses the
drama of a traditional narrative arc to organically bring out
the harsh realism of the material.
interlocks two topical stories: that of a teenage Honduran
girl’s treacherous trek to illegally immigrate to the United
States and that of a young man running from the Mexican gang he
rebels against. She’s Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), and she and her
family are riding atop the freight train that Willy A.K.A. “El
Casper” (Edgar Flores) has been assigned to pillage. The only
problem: he’s transfixed by her and, already seeking a way out
of his violent thug life, decides he’ll merely ride away from
the past. If only things were that simple.
The way the various elements of the
film balance drama and realism is its greatest asset. While
Sin Nombre is as suspenseful as any cat-and-mouse story—Sayra
and Willy become better and better friends as the gang gets
closer and closer to catching him—it also provides all the
insight of a documentary on immigrant journeys and gang activity
south of the border. These are topics of endless discussion in
the American political sphere and yet most Americans actually
know very little about them. Early on in the film, Sayra’s
father tells her that half of the train-riders will die on the
way to the United States. The film depicts the journey in
sobering detail, and yet it commendably stops short of becoming
a political polemic, as was the case with Maria Full of Grace.
In fact, the script fully recognizes that illegal immigration
contributes to violent crime in the U.S.: running after him,
Willy’s former gang members yell that they have connections in
Los Angeles who will kill him if they fail to do so. Dramatized
as it is, this passage is terrifyingly real because the gang is
based off of an actual group called Mara Salvatrucha.
Perhaps the film’s unique, balanced style can be attributed to
the fact that writer/director Fukunaga is American and made the
picture thinking of U.S. audiences. While never preachy or
naïve, Fukunaga goes to incredible lengths to enlighten the
viewer on these topics, which is something an accustomed native
filmmaker might not have done. Not to mention, he implements a
distinctly American sense of drama, which works harmoniously
with the story because it’s never overdone. However, my praise
for Fukunaga’s work should not keep me from mentioning the
great, raw performances from young actors Gaitan and Flores or
the beautiful, lush cinematography from D.P. Adriano Goldman.
Nearly every facet of Sin Nombre, one of 2009’s first
must-sees, is as informative as it is intense.
3.15.2009 at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX.
Sin Nombre is rated R and runs 96
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