Cary Fukunaga makes an incredible debut with his first film, “Sin Nombre,” where he focuses on the topic of illegal immigration. Dealing with what can be a sticky topic at times, this film forces the viewer to drop his/ her preconceived notions and participate in the thrill, danger, emotions, hopes and fears of the characters traveling to the North.
At its center, “Sin Nombre” follows the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border by two teenagers who become entangled in this socially correct thriller that honestly portrays the lives of immigrants and the cultures associated with them. Sayra (Pauline Gaitan) is a Honduran teen recently reunited with her father after he abandoned her many years before for the United States. Now, she must cross the Mexican border, forced to shed her Honduran identity, with her father and uncle to start a new life in New Jersey. Willy, a.k.a. Casper (Edgar Flores), must flee Chiapas to save his life after upsetting his gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS13). The two, though fleeing from different pasts, find solace in each other’s presence and come to find a commonality: their wish to survive.
The film poetically intertwines the multiple push/pull factors that lead to migration from Mexico and Central America. What many in the United States refuse to understand is how many migrants have no choice but to leave Latin America.
Over-crowded cities, corrupt government, oppression, violence, low wages and sexual harassment are just a few of the topics Fukunaga focuses on that are overly prominent in the culture of many Latin American states. With these issues looming in their home, immigrants find that the United States appears to offer a better prospect for their own lives and the lives of their family.
Much of what makes “Sin Nombre” such an effective film is the usage of unknown actors and their authentic portrayal of their emotions throughout the journey. Both the characters of Sayra and Willy experience excitement and nervousness, unsure of what a life in the United States could offer them.
Mirroring the real-life journey of many migrants, “Sin Nombre” is nowhere close to a joy ride, but a ride that keeps the viewer in sheer suspense about how the travelers will reach their goal: the border. Fukunaga does a great job of keeping the tension high, allowing for no time to feel comfort or ease with the teenagers’ journey. The audience stays riveted by amazing cinematography, which is very similar to that of “City of God” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” The film also limits the amount of accompanying music, sometimes leaving the viewer to watch in complete silence, making the journey that much more gripping.
It is no surprise that “Sin Nombre” won the Directing and Cinematography Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize award at the Sundance Film Festival. If there is one thing I can say to persuade you to see this film, I would tell you that you shouldn’t miss out on this rising star as you will be vividly affected by “Sin Nombre” and will continue seeing more of Fukunaga in the future. “Sin Nombre” is now in theaters at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema.