Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MEXICAN MASTERPIECE; Director Cary Fukunaga's Outstanding Debut Lingers in the Mind Long after It Has Ended -- Yet One More Example of the Powerful Imagination and International Appeal of Latin America's Film Industry; FILM OF THE WEEK

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MEXICAN MASTERPIECE; Director Cary Fukunaga's Outstanding Debut Lingers in the Mind Long after It Has Ended -- Yet One More Example of the Powerful Imagination and International Appeal of Latin America's Film Industry; FILM OF THE WEEK

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

SIN NOMBRE Cert 15, 96 mins *****

THE famous murals of Diego Rivera show Mexico as a perfect kind of society, a place that makes up in civility and co-operation what it lacks in milk and honey. They are florid social fantasies, where the people - ah, The People - march in the same direction, fully in tune with one another and the sound of destiny. To see where that fantasy ended up in the 21st century one must watch a new kind of masterpiece, the film Sin Nombre.

A pretty and like able teenager from Honduras, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), meets a father she has not seen in many years. He now lives in the United States with his new family, and returns to see the folks back home. Though his status is illegal, his life seems blessed, as all American lives do, and she decides to cross into Mexico with him and make the dangerous journey north. She will not understand how dangerous until it is too late. Meanwhile, Caspar (Edgar Flores), a young man who is not as tough as his friends, is hanging out in Tapachula, Mexico, with a band of street warriors called the Mara Salvatrucha brotherhood. The leader of the Tapachula branch of the Mara gang, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), has the most ferocious facial tattoos in movie history, and he is, shall we say, a tad unsentimental when it comes to the welfare of the gang and the broader attachments of its members. Caspar has brought a new recruit, 12-year-old Smiley, who will have to prove himself.

The Mara gang, who are well known in Mexico, make the Jets and the Sharks, to say little of the members of Fight Club, look like groups of poet-tasting fairies out of Gilbert and Sullivan. Theirs is a world of blood and fire, of rituals and revenge, and when Caspar crosses the line he finds himself one of the hunted. The freight trains out of Tapachula carry hundreds of would-be illegal immigrants heading for the border. They sit on the roof in all weathers and risk being robbed by the Mara. After a terrible incident, Caspar ends up on the roof of the moving train, where he meets Sayra and her father. Will they make it to America? Will Caspar ever be free of the Mara? And will these two teenagers find in each other the love they have always missed?

Beautifully shot and perfectly realised, Sin Nombre is a gripping narrative that also manages to be a tale of our times. From The Gold Rush (1925) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and In America (2002), the myth of the pioneer or the immigrant who struggles through violence and ill luck to reach the American frontier is a potent and dramatic one. But with Sin Nombre the genre is given an entirely new face. Movies born out of real struggle and true jeopardy are too scarce nowadays. You might hold your breath over a leap but very seldom over an idea. …

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