13/07/2009 at 9:37 pm
Dread, hope mingle in ‘Sin Nombre’
Young on the run: Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and the gangster Casper (Edgar Flores) are the protagonsists in “Sin Nombre.”
“Sin Nombre” is punctuated with brief bursts of violence, for two primary reasons.
First, it strikes me as a reaction to the lingering, exploitative cameras of larger, more cynical films. It’s also for realism’s sake — violence isn’t entertainment here. It’s used to illustrate desperation and brutality.
In the context of the story, it’s a fact of life. People do horrible things to each other, and life goes on. For Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teen, her trek across Mexico atop a freight train with her father and uncle is a risky venture; few make it to the U.S. border and across. For Casper (Edgar Flores), as a member of a vicious gang of tattooed toughs, death is practically an everyday occurrence; one learns to get over loss quickly.
The extremity of their circumstances allows little time to mourn. Casper, whose real name is Willy, and who appears to be about 17, is initiating his young friend Benito (Kristian Ferrer), who’s roughly 10 years old, into the gang. This involves 13 seconds of the “cortes” — laying on the ground while others beat and kick him repeatedly, apparently to toughen him up. When leader Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta) lifts him off the ground, Benito grins with a bloody mouth, and he’s nicknamed Smiley.
Rated: R for violence, language, some sexual content
Cast: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Run time: 96 minutes
But Casper runs afoul of Lil Mago, and circumstances place him atop the lumbering train, where Sayra admires and befriends him. She was told she’d enter the U.S. “in the hands of the devil,” so perhaps Casper is it. Although she’s naive, she isn’t stupid, which seems contradictory to a decision she makes later in the film. Perhaps its the prophecy that drives Sayra, because it’s definitely not logic.
“Sin Nombre” might be best appreciated on more abstract terms.
The train seems like a force of nature, as if it’s a wind, and the travelers upon it are opening their sail. Who operates the vehicle and why they tolerate their presence isn’t addressed.
Sarya and Casper are thinly defined, their motivation a mystery; perhaps they’re best described as angel and devil, innocent and experienced.
Writer/director Cary Fukunaga has crafted a film that’s more of an achievement than a gripping character drama. The photography is wondrous, often contrasting beauty with horror. It’s obvious Fukunaga doesn’t intend to portray the plight of the downtrodden immigrant, or the danger of thug life, pacing the film not for maximum impact, but to create a slow burn in which dread and hope linger and mingle.
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