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Sin Nombre: This is Mara Salvatrucha

Right after I saw Sin Nombre at Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I noted down "This picture is going to make it big."

The film tells a story of illegal immigrants who, like many others, try to find their way from Honduras to the U.S. The journey of a Honduran teenage girl Sayra (Gaitan) and her father intertwines with the adventures of Willy, a member of the Mara Salvatrucha (regarded as one of the cruelest gangs on the planet), who gets into a completely different sort of trouble.

Sin Nombre is a début feature film by Cary Fukunaga. The director did his research and created a very true picture of Central America. We get to know the young boys and girls, those who decide to join the gang and those who make the decision to escape. Through learning about their backgrounds we start to understand the motives behind these desperate decisions and begin to support them in their tasks.

And there is a love story as well, if one can call it like that. But don't expect a Hollywood ending.

So, how is Sin Nombre as a movie? There are two things that come to mind at first:
- amazing cinematography which managed to somehow add a romantic feel to the cruel real-life scenery
- and very natural acting that make you feel as if you were looking at authentic events.

And actually these are the authentic events and authentic people as Fukunaga engaged some of the real immigrants and real gangsters in the movie.

A natural comparison that comes to mind is "City of God". This comparison makes sense as both movies touch the subject of teenage gangs in Latin America. They are very different in style, though. "Sin Nombre" is filmed in a traditional way. There is no shaky, nervous camera which makes you feel you are watching a documentary, not a film. It's also not as violent as the Brazilian picture, although it would be a lie to say that there is hardly any violence in it. The crime is not shocking, though. It's not meant to shock. It's part of the scenery. It seems natural or even dangerously justifiable.

Are there any drawbacks? Sure there are a few. The script could be crafted better. It seems a bit artificial at times, especially towards the end of the movie where some scenes seems to be there just because "some things need to be resolved" or "ought to happen", even though the plot did lead to them naturally. The acting is good but not remarkable, still pretty impressive knowing that most of the actors are in fact amateurs.

Fortunately those drawbacks did not distract me from enjoying the story. I exited the cinema excited and wanting to know more about those people living in this dangerous area of the world. I also think that this is one of the major reasons "Sin Nombre" is important. It draws the world's attention (at least for a couple of hours) to the problems of Central America and does it without being unnecessarily provocative, violent, sentimental or stupid.

Great movie worth watching, especially if you are a Hispanic-detesting young white guy from Texas. It may make you think things over again.


If you are interested what the director Cary Fukunaga had to say about the movie, here is a short video I recorded after the screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June:

Fukunaga received the "The Skillset New Directors Award" for his stunning directorial début in Sin Nombre and the "Directing Award" at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The movie also received a "Cinematography Award" at Sundance.

You can read some of my original impressions from the EIFF here:

michuk Borys Musielak

JeffreyVC JeffreyVC

Heya. Great review. Would you put the social/cultural commentary (the world around them) in a Slumdog Millionaire category, where it's trying to make a statement, or is it like The Hurt Locker, which is pretty apolitical?

I haven't actually seen City of God. A friend of mine recently told me that I might as well not watch movies if I don't see it. He's a big fan.


michuk michuk

Far from 'Slamdog millionaire' - that's for sure. I haven't seen the other one, but 'Sin Nombre' is not trying to make a statement. I generally don' like movies trying to make a statement, thus my despise for the Boyle's India adventure.

Fukunaga's film makes you think but doesn' neccesarly tell you what to think. It shows part of real life packed in an interesting (love?) Story and leaves you with that.

It's not an artistic masterpiece nor it has no faults but it is a powerful picture of coping with the poverty and the dream of a better life.

Do you HAVE to see it? No. But I'm happy I did.


MalviLLe MalviLLe reminds me of something...have you seen the film "Maria full of grace"? the trailer: ( Best first film in the Berlin Film Festival 2004)


michuk michuk

No, I missed this one. Just added to my wishlist.


MalviLLe MalviLLe

I just did the same thing. Sin Nombre is now officially on my wishlist ;)


JeffreyVC JeffreyVC

Ha, I'm not so sure how I feel about the political nature of Slumdog, but I did like the movie overall. It wasn't all about that.

These two movies are on my wishlist as well.


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