Sin Nombre

Sin Nombre


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

When it comes to ambition, Cary Fukunaga’s debut feature has it in spades, aiming as it does to simultaneously be a road-trip, a gritty City Of God style ghetto flick, a touching romance and a social commentary on the lengths people in southern America will got to realise the US ‘dream’. That, for the most part, he manages to pull of this high wire act bodes well for his future.

The film is strongest in its social portrayal of the reality for many heading for the elusive ‘green pastures’ of the Star-Spangled nation. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is leaving Honduras with her father and brother to try – via Guatemala and Mexico - to cross the border into the US, by any means possible. Fukunaga took time to really get to grips with this journey, spending time on the same trains his characters do, to get a sense of this mass migration that happens as hundreds ride the roofs, jumping off and racing the trains through stations where they think there may be border police. The sense of dislocation and tiredness tinged with hope as well as the harsh realities of the risks involved are fiercely rendered.

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Sayra and her family face more difficulties than most, however, when their path crosses that of a young gang member Willy (Edgar Flores) who is robbing the top of their train along with his gang boss Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) and raw 12-year-old initiate Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer).

Like the train, Fukunaga takes us on a journey, fleshing out the life of Willy long before destiny thrusts him and Sayra, who take the term star-crossed to new extremes, together. He paints a visceral portrait of gang life for those in the real-life Mara Salvatrucha, where – despite what young Smiley may initially believe – choosing whether you are a member is not an option on the table. And he gets under the skin of ideas of initiation and belonging, showing that brutality, even towards you, can mean brotherhood if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Although taking a while to gather momentum, slightly overlong and initially a little confusing, once Fukunaga’s film gets a head of steam up it ploughs through your emotions and builds to a gripping climax. He is particularly good at balancing the horrors of the 'everyday' border crossings against the specifics of his violent narrative involving Willy.

This is a vivid portrait of the landscape of the Americas, picking apart every step of the migrant’s journey and showing the lengths people are driven to, either through violence, hope or fear to take a migratory route, where the destination could as soon be death as your dream.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2009
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Sin Nombre packshot
The paths of a Honduran migrant and a gangland youth trying to escape his past cross on the top of a train.
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Director: Cary Fukunaga

Writer: Cary Fukunaga

Starring: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Luis Fernando Peña, Diana García

Year: 2009

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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