From El Norte
to In This World
, the immigration drama has burgeoned into a bona fide
subgenre of the cinema of globalization. In his debut feature, Cary Fukunaga mashes up the tale of the arduous journey across borders with the developing world gangster drama as exemplified by City of God
. Sin Nombre
offers a fresh and convincing spin on both by combining a sense of documentary authenticity with the hard boiled tropes of film noir
Literally and figuratively, the engine that drives Sin Nombre is a train that runs northward through Mexico. On its roof, hundreds of immigrants from Central American countries ride north towards the U.S. border, among them the Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a teenager from Honduras who illegally crossed into Mexico with her father and brother. On their way to New Jersey, they brave heavy rain, derailments, and Mexican patrols. As the family passes through Mexican towns, locals throw oranges and rock rocks -- but the gravest threatare bandits who board the train to rob and rape the defenseless travelers.
Edgar Flores and Paulina Gaitan in Sin NombreFocus Features
Three of these bandits -- Casper (Edgar Flores), Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) and Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) -- are members of the Mara Salvatrucha, an organized crime brotherhood that totes home-built guns and feeds their enemies to the dogs. Before their fateful meeting with Sayra's family on top of the train, we learn that boss Lil' Mago is responsible for the death of Casper's girlfriend, and that 12-year-old Smiley recently joined the brutal gang in a bloody hazing ritual.
I'd rather not undercut the power of Fukunaga's thriller by giving away too many of its startling surprises. Broody bad boy Casper and the stubborn but lovely Sayra act out a tough yet touching version of the grudging road movie friendship; the demands of gang loyalty and the harsh realities of illegal immigration don't leave much room for a burgeoning romance.
Sin Nombre (2009)
Starring: Kristian Ferrer, Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Tenoch Huerta, Luis Fernando Pena
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga
Produced by: Pablo Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.
Release Date: March 20th, 2009 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some sexual content.
Distributors: Universal Pictures International (UPI), Focus Features