Immigration film leaves lasting impact

Kathleen Ambre

An inspirational story of physical and moral border crossings, “Sin Nombre” touches on a number of unpleasant realities in the midst of an unconventional romance. Frequent bouts of violence–so intense they invoke cringes–have the power to confound the audience. Captivating, impassioned and unpredictable this melodramatic Mexican film leaves a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of its viewers.

The film was written and directed by the young Cary Joji Fukunaga, winner of the 2008 USA Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, the John H. Johnson Film Award, and the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography, who has proved his innovative talent and authenticity. Alongside an accomplished cast of fresh faces—Paulina Gaitan and Edgar Flores—the film as a whole succeeds in awakening its audience to woeful realities taking place in impoverished Central America.
Two separate lives on discrete paths cross at the junction of a fatal and inevitable encounter. The first of the two is rooted in the chaos of Tapachula in Chipas, Mexico, where Casper (Edgar Flores), a teenage member of the malicious street gang Mara Salvatrucha, is headed toward an inevitable demise. Casper attempts to escape his troublesome past when his story conjoins with that of Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a radiant yet impulsive Honduran teenager riding the rails to Texas with her father and uncle in hope of a better life in America.

Alongside newly-initiated gang member Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer)—no more than twelve years old—and second in charge, tattooed gangster Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Mejia), Casper meets Sayra on a freight train headed toward the Mexican-American border. When Lil’ Mago proceeds to threaten Sayra’s life, Casper blatantly betrays any remnants of fellowship between the two of them, ending Lil’ Mago’s life in hope for a new life of his own.

Confusion, horror, outrage and suspicion—sentiments aroused by witnesses—all reduce Casper to an object of revenge and utter vulnerability. While many avoid him at all costs, Sayra commences a curious friendship that not only provides an immediate comfort, but strengthens over time. Both yearning for self-liberation, the two fortify an impenetrable bond: trust. Sympathetic and opportune, just the presence of trust in the midst of hopeless circumstances transforms each of their lives.
Guided by a gifted cinematographer and crafted with the essential undertone of artistry, “Sin Nombre” displays the transcendence of hope from despair. The film succeeds in informing viewers of a modern-day dilemma regardless of boundless disturbances. Fukunaga doesn’t deliver the sugar-coated happy ending every romantic comedy sap craves, but consequently the overall message is that much more powerful.