Who hasn’t been waiting for another collaboration with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna? The wait is over with their latest project working with director Cary Joji Fukunaga. Bernal and Luna do not star in Sin Nombre, rather they serve as executive producers and provide support for a film that‘s both shocking, yet questionable.
Sin Nombre is a new addition to the narratives of immigrants from Central America. As many movies with this central theme, it is not easy to watch. There were gasps from the audience watching some scenes, uncomfortable laughter, and even tears. Fukunaga’s cinematography is nothing short of stunning as he shows parts of Central America few have seen before. It is clear Fukunaga wanted to tell a realistic and raw story of survival and perseverance among Latino youth. However, I’m just not convinced this film gives us anything new to consider.
Sin Nombre tells the story of Casper (Edgar Flores), a gang member in the Mara Salvatrucha gang who lives in Mexico and does his job of staffing a particular part of town where he recruits young boys into his organization. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a teenager living in Honduras, is reunited with her father who immigrated to the US and wants to take her back with him the same way he came: through the trains that cross the borders between Honduras and Mexico. Casper and Sayra meet when her family jumps a train in Mexico. Casper and his two homeboys then attempt to rob them. However, he saves Sayra’s life and that is when she decides to get to know him, against her father’s wishes, as a person, not just a gang member.
We follow Casper as he attempts to flee his gang and migrate to the US. It is not as easy as it sounds when he is “wanted” by the Mara Salvatrucha, the same violent group that once considered him a brother. Sayra makes the choice to follow him and believes her decision was the right one to make. The idea of fatalism is clearly at play in Sin Nombre and it very much distracted me.
There were times where I struggled to understand what story Fukunaga wanted to share in Sin Nombre. The tale of immigration, border crossing, and survival are paramount. Yet, there was something that made me distinctly uncomfortable about the film, and I wanted to understand what exactly it was. I think the issues are compounded with gender, stereotypes, and ideas of adolescence. There are only two women with speaking roles in this film, Sayra, and Casper’s girlfriend Martha, (Diana Garcia). Sin Nombre is clearly a film about Casper and Sayra, an example of lost innocence and virtue.
I was torn on how to interpret the marketing for Sin Nombre as the trailer will give the impression Sayra wants to leave Honduras with her father, but that is not the entire story. The choices Sayra makes fall into stereotypical representations of Latinas following their men, sacrificing their own safety and future. We’ve heard and seen this story before. Martha, who is living comfortably in a middle-class environment, chooses to chase after her boyfriend in ways that quickly and brutally end her life. I couldn’t help but wonder if the women in the movie were used as examples of how ruthless gangs in any part of the world can become, or to share a story of redemption. Sin Nombre is startling, and it’s been a long time since a film by any director has left me with such an impression.
Sin Nombre premieres in select theaters on Friday, March 20.