Sin Nombre is a 2009 US-Mexican film by American director Cary Fukunaga, with a cast comprised of largely unknown Mexican actors, entirely shot in Mexico, with all the dialogue in Spanish, and distributed by an American film company. It’s an odd combination but one that is so potent and effective. Since Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros way back in 2000, I haven’t seen a Mexican based film this powerful and that alone speaks a lot about this film.
Sin Nombre revolves around 2 different stories. Sayra is a young girl from Honduras who accompanies her father to illegally cross the Mexican border to reach New Jersey. To do so, they must ride a train together with other illegal immigrants. Willy is a Mexican gang member, nicknamed Casper, who works for La Mara Salvatrucha (a real life gang, which this film is based on). Their paths cross when Willy is tasked to rob the train Sayra is currently riding. From then on, it’s hell and chaos as one tragic event leads to another as the characters fight for their survival. As with Amores Perros this film portrays poverty, crime, and illegal immigration in a gritty and realistic fashion. There are no happy endings here, and those expecting one will be sorely disappointed, even though the film itself is begging for one.
Sin Nombre’s cinematography by Adriano Goldman is so beautifully stunning you’d be hard pressed to find a Mexican movie that looks THIS good. The film wonderfully captures the atmosphere of poverty, misery and desperation it will really move you. In fact, even if you don’t like depressing and tragic movies, this film is worth watching for the visuals alone. The accompanying musical score is largely composed of ambient music which is terrific when put in the context of the film and effectively contributes to the atmosphere.
With a cast of Mexican unknowns with very little (around 80% of the cast are in their debut roles) previous experience, I found myself surprised with the respectable and convincing acting the cast delivered. It won’t win any awards, but with visual imagery this powerful, you won’t be looking for Oscar worthy performances.
Sin Nombre is a terrific film. No film lately had me this emotionally wrecked right after the credits rolled. (I’ve yet to see Biutiful which people say is even more depressing) Having given that confession then I would not recommend this film to those expecting happy endings, or those looking for gang-war action. For fans of Mexican films, and cinema in general, then this film is a must-watch.