Welcome to the Brotherhood: This Immigrant Tale Is a Flimsy but Entertaining Gangland Thriller
Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)
Sin nombre (15)
dir: Cary Fukunaga
The Mexican film Sin nombre is an immigrant story with elements of gangland thriller, western, road movie and the sort of socially conscious expose of street life that might look pretty (City of God) or feel true (Pixote), but can rarely do both. Sin nombre plumps for pretty. It's entertaining enough, even as you feel the tale's untapped complexities behind the diluted version served up here.
Mexico gives good location, from the garland-festooned cemeteries of Tapachula, where tattooed thugs congregate, to the hobo romance of the railroads snaking northwards. Not that romance has much room to thrive there. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is one of the bedraggled hopefuls crowded on to the roof of a freight train bound for the Mexican-North American border. On the journey, she meets young Casper (Edgar Flores) in circumstances best described as unpromising--he is part of a gang attempting to rob her at gunpoint, then Casper has an attack of conscience and starts swinging his machete around, and soon Sayra owes him her life. Back in the day, that would have made a lovely story on Simon Bates's Our Tune slot.
Unfortunately for Casper, his chivalry lands him with a death sentence from his former homies. We already know that his gang, the Mara Salvatrucha, is an unforgiving bunch. In their neighbourhood, life is cheap and underwear is visible. Their initiation rites involve prospective members being beaten, kicked and stamped on in scenes of brutality previously glimpsed only during half-price day at World of Leather. If that's how they treat people they like, imagine what they do to their enemies. Actually, you don't need to imagine: it's all here. Let's just say you'll never look at Pedigree Chum the same way again.
It's hard luck for the more contemplative parts of Sin nombre that the gang scenes are so dynamic. As Casper, Flores has the old-man-in-a-young-body quality of Franco Citti in Accattone. With that dainty tattooed teardrop under his eye, it's almost as if Casper knew he was going to end up as the sensitive main character in a film about a gang member turning his back on crime. His leader, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), has a clown tattooed on one arm, tombstones on his torso, and what appears to be an enormous bar code on his face, which must cause havoc at the supermarket checkout. …