Cary J˘ji Fukunaga

Focus Features

Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Kristyan Ferrer

SIN NOMBRE: Mexico 2009, digital, color, Spanish, R, 96 min


SHOWTIMES: 7:00p - MON 10/26 ONLY

CLASE hosts this special screening in conjunction with their first triennial CONFERENCE ON LATINO EDUCATION AND IMMIGRANT INTEGRATION (October 26-28). This national research and policy conference, co-sponsored by the National Latino Educational Research Agenda Project, will focus on issues of best practices, policy, and research related to the Latino educational achievement gap, immigration and education, and related topics.

WINNER: 2009 Sundance Film Festival: Directing Award
WINNER: 2009 Sundance Film Festival: Cinematography Award
WINNER: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival: New Directors' Award

Making its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, SIN NOMBRE is an epic dramatic thriller from award-winning director Cary Fukunaga. Seeking the promise of America, a beautiful young Honduran woman, Sayra (Paulina Gaytan), joins her father and uncle on an odyssey to cross the gauntlet of the Latin American countryside en route to the United States. Along the way she crosses paths with a teenaged Mexican gang member, El Casper (Edgar M. Flores), who is maneuvering to outrun his violent past and elude his unforgiving former associates. Together they must rely on faith, trust and street smarts if they are to survive their increasingly perilous journey towards the hope of new lives.

El Norte. The North. It is a lodestar for some of those south of our border, who risk their lives to come here. SIN NOMBRE, which means "without a name," is a devastating film about some of those who attempt the journey. It contains risk, violence, a little romance, even fleeting moments of humor, but most of all, it sees what danger and heartbreak are involved. It is riveting from start to finish.

The film weaves two stories. One involves Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a young woman from Honduras who joins her father and uncle in an odyssey through Guatemala and Mexico intended to take them to relatives in New Jersey. The other involves Willy, nicknamed Casper (Edgar Flores), a young gang member from southern Mexico, who joins with his leader and a 12-year-old gang recruit to rob those riding north on the tops of freight cars. Their paths cross. This is an extraordinary debut film by Cary Fukunaga, only 31, who shows a mastery of image and story. He knows the material. He spent time riding on the tops of northward trains; hundreds of hopeful immigrants materialize at a siding and scramble onboard, and the railroad apparently makes little attempt to stop them.

The story of Sayra, her father and her uncle is straightforward: They are driven to improve their lives, think they have a safe haven in New Jersey and want to go there. Some elements of their journey reminded me of Gregory Nava's great indie epic EL NORTE (1983). The journey in that film was brutal; in this one, it is forged in hell. That hell is introduced by Fukunaga in the club rooms of the gang, whose members are fiercely tattooed, none more than Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), the leader, whose face is covered like a war mask. Casper is a member of the gang, more or less by force; he brings 12-year-old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) to a meeting, and the kid is entranced by the macho BS. The three board one of the northbound trains to rob the riders, and that's when Casper meets Sayra and their fates are sealed. rogerebert