Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sin Nombre... Not A review...

While I don't often put a lot of stock in top 10 lists for the year, I do use them as a sort of a guide to see what the different critics/publications/organizations think are the top movies of the year. One such movie that I saw on a few lists and had read some good things about was "Sin Nombre".
I got a chance to finally see this movie on Netflix, available via streaming online. I was amazed at the quality of the movie online, on the HDTV it streamed with out a stutter, and the picture quality was gorgeous.
We all take our names and whatever goes along with it like our identity, for granted. But what if you had to leave it all behind whether by choice or circumstances, and undertake a journey across borders not just physical but also those of the moral kind?
Sin Nombre (Without Name) is about that, a road movie with elements of a crime thriller thrown in. It is unflinching in it's depiction of the violence and the inner workings of the real life gang Mara Salvatrucha, (and those that are caught up in it willingly or otherwise). It also about the desperation that drives people from South America to come north in the search of a better life. The destitute migrants waiting for the trains up north while camped along the tracks in rail yards are depicted with a realism, that stays with the viewer. The movie is also about heartbreak and it held my attention from start to finish.
At it's heart Sin Nombre really is about two parallel stories that soon intersect. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), is a young woman from Honduras who joins her father and uncle a long journey thru Guatemala and Mexico. Their eventual destination is her father's family in New Jersey. The other story is involves Willy, aka Casper (Édgar Flores), a young gang member, who is inducting the 12 year old Smiley (Kristian Ferrer) in to the gang. But Casper is not as much in to the gang as his leader lil Mago ( a convincing Tenoch Huerta) would like. Casper is more in to Martha (Diana Garcia), with Smiley often tagging along during their liaisons. As a part of the initiation process, Smiley is beaten up and then commanded, along with Casper to shoot a captured street rival.
The victim is then chopped and fed to dogs. Martha meanwhile is not taking to kindly to being kept in the shadows by Casper regarding his activities and shows up recklessly at a gang meet, setting in motion a series of violent acts, culminating with Casper fleeing north on top of the freight train with Sayra and her family. Sayra and Casper form an unlikely team and share something of a bond. I do not dare call it anything else. Their fates are tragically sealed, linked as they are by Casper's singular act when he, lil Mago and Smiley board the freight train to rob the migrants.
I actually found the most chilling character to be not lil Mago, but Smiley. The hypnotic gang culture seduces Smiley and by the end of this movie, he is no longer a child.
The one other thing I noticed about the movie was its cinematography. The shots of the train and countryside are truly beautiful. I also loved how the movie open with Casper staring at a poster of a forest ablaze with fall colors, that and Martha who he loves the only things of beauty in his life.
I also liked how a couple of scenes showed the dichotomy of feelings towards migrants. Along the journey north there are children along the way who welcome the migrants on the train by tossing fruit at them, while further north children welcome them with rocks as the train passes thru.
It is hard to believe that "Sin Nombre" is the directorial feature debut of writer/director Cary Fukunaga, and I can see why he received the director's award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which also recognized this movie's outstanding cinematography by Adriano Goldman.
The actors in Sin Nombre may no names to us, but they are all amazing, and a testament to the wonderful job they and Fukunaga have done.
I could be wrong, but this is a gritty movie, yet it felt pretty and that may be due to the cinematography. Don't get me wrong though, this is a movie worth seeing.
So what inspired Fukunaga to make this movie? An interview with him along with a trailer of the movie is here.
Also embedded below.


Lotus Reads said...

Sanj, so glad you took the time and trouble to review this movie for us. It sounds like a "must-see". I've been interested in people (mostly children) that ride the trains from South America to the US ever since I read Sonia Navarro's "Enrique's Journey". Many of the kids are tweens and when they ride these trains they are at the mercy of ... See Morestrangers and gangs. Many don't make it safely, but despite knowing they could lose their lives hundreds try taking this route every year which tells me that most anything is preferable to living in poverty. I hope I get to see this movie soon!

Sanjay said...

Hi there Lotus, thank you for your comment and kind words. Knowing your interests in refugees, immigration and films, I thought that this movie would surely appeal to you. I also recall us discussing "sin nombre" around the time it was running at the TIFF. Thank you for telling me about "Enrique's Journey". 
You bring up the perils that folks taking the trains up north encounter. And this movie does touch upon those. Not sure if this part was in the embedded clip, but Fukunaga rode the trains too along with the migrants. I don't have the link but his inspiration for the movie was from a real life incident where some migrants suffocated to death while in the back of a trailer truck in Texas (I believe).
Hope you get to see the movie soon, look forward to hearing what you think of it too, as I am sure like always you will bring your own unique perspective.   

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