Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sin Nombre: Grade A

Sin Nombre (2009)
Paulina Gaitan, Kristian Ferrer, Édgar Flores; Writer-Director Cary Fukunaga. (Spanish, subtitled).

A father and two youths from Guatemala make the long journey north to escape the poverty and hopelessness of their lives. They walk, and boat, and travel through Mexico riding on top of freight trains, dodging the border patrol, scavenging food, shelter and water as they can. It is a well told story, very realistic, not over-sentimentalized, but sympathetic. As they cross Chiapas in southern Mexico, a young man (Flores) jumps on the train with a few fellow gangsters. They are members of one of the notorious Latino gangs similar to the mafia. They start robbing the hundreds of migrants at gunpoint, but when the mean, ugly, psychopathic gang leader attempts to molest the young girl from Guatemala (Gaitan), his fellow gang member has an attack of scruples and slashes the leader's throat with a single slice of a machete. He knows that makes him marked for death. He continues on the train north, but the gang is international and will not forget about him. The Guatemalan girl befriends him and as they jointly dodge border patrol and gangsters, they develop a relationship. The young man realizes the futility of the gang life, but it is too late for him. The girl seems oblivious to this darker side of life, but maybe not. It’s ambiguous. The ending is realistic, but definitely not Hollywood Happy.

Acting by the young people is excellent. Scenery and music are excellent. Photography is excellent. This is a compelling movie without a false note. It would have been easy to slip into melodrama, like Slumdog Millionaire did, but this picture is completely honest. It conveys a palpable sense of the reality of the Latino gangs and shows how easy it is for youngsters to get involved with them. The title means “without a name,” perhaps a reference to the nameless millions who attempt the journey to El Norte each year. There is perhaps a secondary political statement, but this is primarily a love story that illustrates a world alien to most of us.

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