Indie film weaves tales
of migrants, killers
on compelling journeys
It’s easy to imagine a porous Mexico-U.S. border, with immigrants flooding across in such numbers that only a relative few can be caught and sent back.
Harder to imagine are the scenes depicted in the new Indie film “Sin Nombre,” with migrants and ruthless gang thugs riding through Mexico atop northbound freight trains on a journey that few seem to complete.
This darkly compelling film brings together the life journeys of Sayra, bound from Honduras to New Jersey if she can somehow reach and cross the border with her father and uncle, and young Mexican gang member Willy, whose life is in turmoil after the killing of his girlfriend by his gang’s leader.
Their lives intersect atop the train, where acts of violence and redemption play out in a storm, and the journeys of the pair of not-quite-lovers become one in the direction of pre-ordained fates.
Actions beget consequences – from the tutoring of a younger-looking 12-year-old in gang ethics and murder to Sayra’s decision to leave the bond of family for the companionship of the fleeing Willy. Along the way, we witness grim acts of inhumanity (in one instance, the killing of a supposed rival who, it is suggested, is shot and then cut up and fed to the gang’s dogs); compassion and intolerance (bystanders who throw fruit to or rocks at the traintop passengers); and self-serving ambivalence.
Most disturbing are the dehumanizing indoctrination of the young boy into gang culture, and the uncompromising savagery of gang mentality. Fiction? Given the proliferation of gang culture in America, and the crimes linked to them in federal investigations in recent years, you have to wonder how close to reality the film hits.
For all the darkness of the tale, you can’t help but feel pushed into your seat and held captive emotionally by the plights of the characters who, for all their faults, are trying to flee unpleasant circumstances and hoping for better lives north of the border. You root for them to somehow escape.
The dialogue is sparse and quick, and with no more than a few years of high school Spanish nearly half a century ago to help, I had to rely on the film’s subtitles – much as I did a few years ago in seeing a film with a somewhat similar feel, “Maria Full of Grace,” in which a pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule.
More recently, the illegal immigrant theme was played out powerfully in “The Visitor” – a terrific film that had passion without violence (or, for the most part, subtitles).
What ties them all together, for me, is the message borne by the Statue of Liberty – that stuff about “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
It’s a beautiful ideal, still. It is why I root for the underdog – for the Sayras and Marias and Tareks, as personified in these three very different films.
It’s a shame our world is not so simple and welcoming a place.
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