Remezcla readers love to take in culture, but don’t always have the cash for tickets. That’s where we come in. A Theater Near You is Remezcla’s guide to awesome Latin movies for the lazy and broke; you can watch these all at home (because sabemos que son flojos).
Twitter: @infoCinelandiaSin Nombre
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Country: Mexico, USA | 2009 | 96 mins
As a Mexidoreña, I am not really a fan of films that make Mexico or Central America look like a terrible place to live especially since the news does that just fine on its own. I’ve spent a lot of time in both places and what the news doesn’t tell you is that their beautiful landscapes are also home to bustling cities, geological wonders, amazing street food, a rich history, killer beaches, volcanoes, pyramids, ancient ruins and thriving music and art scenes. I often feel like a cultural ambassador trying to combat the damage done by American news stations. I am constantly telling gringos that, “Well, people do actually live there. Some parts are dangerous, if you are a drug dealer or a gangbanger. But, otherwise it’s pretty safe.” And then comes a film like Sin Nombre.
Back in 2009, it played some theaters and made a decent amount of money for an indie film. It’s rare that a film in Spanish and about Latin America makes it to a theater, so it’s a pretty big deal when it happens. It’s a chance to show the world what we are all about. Sin Nombre doesn’t paint a pretty picture. It tells the story of a couple of kids traveling on the notoriously dangerous train–known as la bestia or sometimes, the train of death–that immigrants use to pass through Mexico hoping to get to El Norte. The young travelers are desperate, often hungry, become victims of hold-ups and are subjected to intense violence. Yeah, it doesn’t present the most positive image but it’s such a good film.
Directed by gringo-but-sort-of-Latino Cary Fukunaga (he’s Swedish and Japanese, born in Oakland, CA and had a Mexican-American stepdad), the film is an authentic although highly dramatized portrait of what Central American immigrants endure on the long and arduous journey to the U.S. Fukunaga felt uncomfortable telling a story from the point of view of a culture that he didn’t necessarily belong to so he went out of his way to conduct research on the topic. His own journey to understand what it was like to travel on the train of death – as told to indieWire – is almost as compelling as his film:
“My first train had 700 central American immigrants on it. We were attacked within three hours my first night. We were somewhere in the pitch black regions of the Chiapan countryside. In the alcove of the next train car I heard the distinct and pops of gunshots, always louder than they seem in the movies, then the screams of immigrants passing the word: “Pandillas! Pandillas!” (gangsters). Everyone scattered, I could hear them running in past our tanker car. Not having anywhere to run to, I stayed on, waiting for their to be a sign the gangs or bandits were approaching us. After a tense pause, the train rocked and continued on again north, the immigrant who had ran clamored aboard anew. Nothing happened the rest of the night, but everyone was up and vigilant.
The next day I talked to two Hondurans who were next to the attack. They told me a Guatemalan immigrant didn’t want to give two bandits his money so they shot him and throw him under the train. Without knowing if the bandits were still on board, I traveled on for another night before stopping near the Oaxacan border. That was my first trip, but the reality of the event stuck with me. Nothing could have driven home the sensation of fear and impotence than what I had felt first hand with those immigrants.
I traveled three more times with different groups…I at first felt awkward on these trips, the immigrants looking at me like a clown in a courtroom. But soon I was accepted as a strange, but somehow acceptable presence amongst my travelers. We laughed as we traded stories and discovered each other, sweated under the intense heat, suffered through dehydration and sun exposure, and protected each other during rainstorms and immigration raids.”
Watching this film is an intense, heart-stopping undertaking–just like riding on top of the train. The director’s experience helped him craft a story and create characters that ring true. Casper (Edgar Flores), a member of the infamous Mara Salvatrucha gang, crosses paths with Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teenager who hopes to reach Texas and reunite with her father and uncle. The result is at times tender and sweet, other times gut-wrenching and frightening. After watching it, you might even need a moment to recover.