Sin Nombre

sin nombre

I just saw Cary Fukunaga’s Sin Nombre last night. It was as powerful as I’d heard. If my word means anything, this is another endorsement for the film.

Do not think that it will not be rough. One is transplanted into the Guatemalan/Mexican border (roughly Chiapas) where two worlds will collide in a reality that many people know nothing about. Many Americans have no distinctive capabilities when it comes to Latin America. “Mexicans” are the catch-all phrase for those do not look like you. That is why this movie is eye-opening. The initial violence at “the other border,” which is just as terrifying, if not more oppressive and controlled, as the US-Mexico border, is hard to take in, and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

As I mentioned, the violence is hard to take in as we follow MS13 gang member Willy/Casper (Edgar Flores) and his protege Smiley (Kristian Ferrer). Smiley is inducted into the gang through thirteen seconds of beating – as administrated by the local head, the brutal Lil Mago (played amazingly by Tenoch Huerta). My girlfriend found herself almost on the verge of leaving the theatre a few times because of the bursts of violence, mostly directed toward women.

Director Cary Fukunaga

Director Cary Fukunaga

But we stuck it out. And it made all the difference. As an aside, before I go on. The story is amazing, but the cinematography is exceptional and small touches, like the bumpiness of the train sequences, the way time slowed down as Willy was punched to ground in a scene in the cemetery, or the still shots of the Mexican landscape, made the film a treat for the eyes – violent or not.

Without going into plot details, Willy ends up alone on the Train of Death (the name of the train ride from northern Guatemala to Texas) with the gorgeous Sayra (played phenomenally by Paulina Gaitan) and her family fleeing to New Jersey to be reunited. Both make it to the border – a piece of land that holds tons of meaning.

In my opinion, the story had to end how it did and it was perfectly logical why it did. It speaks volumes about the degradation of these Central American countries and the influence of gangs that terrorize innocent people. Mostly, it is the lack of a civic structure and lack of political means that bring many into this, their only way of life, their only means of survival, their only family they know or have – their real family left on the Train of Death years back. The United States remains ephemeral, mysterious, unspoken – but it is the only thread tying all these peoples’ lives together.

Some complain about the use of MS13 – of which I have seen firsthand as a student in Manassas, Virginia. MS13 has obtained an almost legendary status in Northern Virginia – tales of machete killings outside of Sears are not only implausible, but are groundless. Yet, MS13, and it is shown in the movie, is terrifying. Some argue that the Eighteenth Street gang in Mexico, featured in a shootout in the film, would be more apt in a film taking place mostly in Mexico. Yet, MS13 provides both accuracy – it is all across Central and North America – as well as scope – the legend I spoke of earlier.

Sin Nombre provides an allegory to the trials of immigration, the sins committed by the governments of Central America – the extreme income inequalities, the land concentration, the denial or balkanization of basic human services – and the United States – the constant threats of economic strangulation, support in their civic and military endeavors, as well as small things, like deporting known gangbangers back to San Salvador and other capitals increasing gang violence in Salvador while decreasing it in Los Angeles or Houston. It is a film, as the allegory goes, that does not end happily, but ends it must.

I see this film as one that wishes to challenge the cyclical nature we sometimes associate with Latin America or gang violence (white, black, brown, green). This film adds humanity – often lost until it is too late – to the murky pictures seen on television or read in the news. We, Americans (and I use the term in its vitally broad sense), are better off for it.


~ by Daniel on May 15, 2009.

One Response to “Sin Nombre”

  1. It was good. The acting during the funeral seemed a bit stretched and contrived. If this were set in modern day san salvador, The ms13 crime in open streets would have been met with a shot in the back by the PNC since “SUPER MANO DURA”. one cannot even go around with a shaved head or tattoo now in San Sal. San cal circa 1996-another story.BEst Docu I have seen on MS13 is Ross Kemp on MS13. Search torrents for it. There is a gernan version on youtube. They axed the english vers.

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