Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
|Featuring:||Marco Antonio Aguirre, Leonardo Alonso, Karla Cecilia Alvarado, Juan Pablo Arias Barrón, Rosalba Belén Barrón, Sixto Felipe Castro, Rosalba Quintana Cruz, Marcela Feregrino, Kristian Ferrer, Edgar Flores, Giovanni Florido, Paulina Gaitan, Ariel Galvan, Diana Garcia, Gabriela Garibaldi, Ignacio Gonzalez, Noé Hernández, Lilibeth Flores, Jesús Lira, Catalina López, Hector Lortia, Benny Manuel, Fernando Manzano, Liliana Martinez, Mary Paz Mata, Tenoch Huerta, Emir Meza, Emilio Miranda, Jose Miguel Moctezuma, Esperanza Molina, Luis Fernando Peña, Iván Rafael, Gabino Rodríguez, David Serrano, Gerardo Taracena, Harold Torres, Andrés Valdéz, Max Valencia Zúñiga, Noé Velazquez, Tulio Villavicencio, Guillermo Villegas, Javier Rivera Flores, Luis Angel Paz Flores, José Rogelio Vázquez López, Luis Antonio Vázquez López, José Luis Montiel Luna, Marco Tolio Durand Martínez, Jesús Humberto Fuentes Perez, Luis Rodriguez Sanchez, Silverio Menchaque Zárate, Héctor Jiménez, Damayanti Quintanar|
|Director:||Cary Jôji Fukunaga|
|Producer:||Canana Films, Creando Films, Primary Productions, Gerardo Barrera, Pablo Cruz, Gael García Bernal, Amy Kaufman, Diego Luna|
|Distributor:||Universal Pictures International, Focus Features|
“The greatest sin of all is risking nothing.”
The background story of how filmmaker Cary Fukunga got “Sin Nombre” to the silver screen is just about as interesting as the film itself. Let me take a moment to tell you a little bit about that journey.
In reading a New York Times story about a group of “Central American immigrants who died of asphyxiation and heat exhaustion (inside a train compartment),” the San Francisco filmmaker was inspired to write and direct his short 2004 documentary “Victoria para Chino” which ended up winning numerous awards on the festival circuit and got the attention of the Sundance Institute.
When researching the story that would end up being “Sin Nombre,” he decided to take his research one step further and actually live through the experience of his characters. Fukunga went against the advice of his friends and crew members and took a journey on top of a train through some of Latin America’s most dangerous country.
It’s a journey that Latin American immigrants take between Honduras and the States, crossing treacherous lands while sitting precariously on top of a moving freight train, in order to find the freedom they seek in America. On the journey, the travelers are susceptible to harsh weather conditions, unsympathetic immigration officials and routine attacks from bandits who rob the immigrants at gun and knife point for what little resources they have. It is this journey that Fukunga took that gave him a first-hand perspective of what his characters would be experiencing for their journey in “Sin Nombre.”
We first meet Willy (Edgar Flores) who goes by the gang name of Casper. He is a member of the notorious Latin American gang, Mara Salvatrucha (a real life gang infamously known for the level of violence it inflicts on rival gangs and people caught in the crossfire of gang warfare). We also meet Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) who is taking the two-three week journey to New Jersy with her uncle and newly-found father.
Through a number of unfortunate circumstances, Casper finds himself on the outs with the leaders of La Mara and the narratives of our two characters converge.
Fukunga characterized his film as being about “the disintegration and recreation of the family unity in its unique and varying forms.” Family plays a very pivotal role in the choices these two make on their journey.
The journey that these two young people go on and the relationship that ensues is one that is rarely seen (and less rarely executed to this great degree) in cinema. It’s a journey of trust, loyalty and faith. Christian audiences should clearly empathize with the path from damnation towards redemption that Willy embarks on through the course of this film.
It would be challenging to pigeon-hole Fukunga into the category of ‘first-time filmmaker,’ judging by the exceptional quality of this film both cinematically as well as for the performances of the actors. The actors (most of whom are first-timers recruited from the very streets on which this story is told) are all first rate. The dynamics between the characters are very believable, and the chemistry that exists between Sayra and Willy makes it easy to root for these two as they make their way through this perilous trip.
The cinematography is also one of the film’s greatest features. From the opening shot of Willy looking out his door and imagining a richly textured red and yellow field, the beautiful landscapes captured in this film paint a stark contrast to the harsh, violent environment that forms the film’s core.
For Christians that may be dissuaded from seeing this marvelous film simply because its namesake starts with the ‘s’ word (sin) let me assure you that the Spanish term loosely translates to ‘without a name’ or more literally ‘nameless.’
However, let me not be accused of being too understated in pointing out the violent nature of the film, as it deals with Latin American gangs and their self destructive lifestyle. The way that Mara Salvatrucha is portrayed in the film leaves absolutely no doubt that its members will resort to whatever means necessary to make their point. By comparison, these gangsters make the mobsters in “Mean Streets” (1973) look like choir boys.
The film is often times violent and very suspenseful. The violence portrayed is realistic, but never gratuitous. For those who were able to get through “City of God,” this is in the same vein as that film, and probably less violent in quantity and content.
As far as the violence depicted that merits mentioning, there are two attempted rape scenes, a couple gang initiation beat downs, a number of shootings and stabbings that go along with the harsh lifestyles associated with gangs (including a man getting his throat slit with a lot of blood shed), and an implication that after a man is shot he is “fed to the dogs”—we see a group of dogs eating what can only be imagined as human remains.
There is also a brief sex scene early in the movie where we hear the sounds of Willy having sex with his girlfriend. During the scene, we see her feet moving as the act is going forth. After the scene we see her topless in the bed next to him in the aftermath of their intimacy.
The film is in Spanish with English subtitles, so all the profanity (and it is pervasive and typical for this type of film) can be read (as well as heard), for those who may not be familiar with some of the more colorful Spanish words.
As mentioned, the film deals with the harsh lifestyles of these rough gang members, many of them are covered in tattoos from their ankles, across their chests, up their arms and even across their faces. There are a couple scenes of members having tattoos applied that may make some audience members uncomfortable.
In the gang’s “hang out” there are posters displayed on the background walls of women in various states of undress. Most of these posters are out of focus, and, for the most part, if you’re paying attention to the background, you’re probably not very interested in the movie anyway.
Lastly, it should be noted (because this always comes up as a concern for movies that in anyway have to do with Mexico or Latin America) that though the issue of immigration is definitely the backdrop for this story. The film steers clear of presenting an opinion about the issue of illegal immigration. The topic is referred to subtly a couple times, however it is never dwelled upon.
With the Oscars expanding its list of ‘Best Picture’ nominations to ten films this year, don’t be surprised to find this powerful and well executed film amongst the contenders for Tinsel-town’s highest accolade.
Though the film bears a title that when translated implies lack, it does not lack the ability to leave an impression with its audience. “Sin Nombre” is a film that if you choose to go along for the journey, will be one that you are not soon to forget.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.