Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sundance, Best of Fest: Sin Nombre


To my extreme irritation, I had written a substantial portion of a blog entry on my cell phone, and it is now mysteriously missing. Nothing is left but the header. Ah well. Rest assured, I said any number of deep, profoud things. Okay, maybe not.

At any rate, it's about a month after the fact, so it's time I finish blogging about the last Sundance film that we saw this year, Sin Nombre, which translates roughly to something like Unnamed, or Without Name. This was such an incredible film, one whose images have really stuck with me, even a month later. If you go read the description, it's described as being "in the tradition of American film noir." I had thought that description inaccurate, but reading a little bit about Film Noir here and then here, I suppose that strictly speaking, the film does meet some of the definitions given on those sites of film noir -- the line between good and evil blurred, moral ambiguity, despair prevailing, not necessarily a congenial ending. Still this felt less like film noir to me and more like a tragedy along Shakespearean or even classical lines, though perhaps it also contains too much hope simultaneously to really fit that definition.

At any rate, whatever dramatic genre it falls into, Sin Nombre is a simultaneously dark but at times oddly beautiful film, one that definitely defied my expectations. I found it to be a fascinating look into the incredible dangers people are willing to face for a better life, and I had no idea that people actually rode on the tops of trains to try to get from Central America and Mexico to America. I also found it to be a simultaneously horrific and yet compelling look into gang life in Mexico. I loved that nothing was simple -- in a surreal world in which evil seems commonplace and accepted, little bits of humanity crept through all the same. I thought the gang leader was most brilliantly written and acted -- as you watch a 12-year-old boy who is trying to become an accepted member of the gang, you can envision his future and his likely ending if he continues along his current path as you also look at the leader, his face fully tattooed, barely recognizable as a normal human being, seemingly morally as far gone as a person can be, showing no mercy and no remorse. And yet they don't allow anything to be as simple as that -- the audience watches in horror as he orders a defenseless, begging man be killed, chopped up, and fed to his dogs, but the whole scene made brilliant by the fact that while he's carrying out these gang leader duties, he's also carrying around a tiny baby in a cute little suit of pajamas. Thus, the mundane, everyday things that everyone does are intermixed with horrific acts that hopefully not many can imagine. He had another similar moment, in which he brutally attacks and tries to rape a woman, and as she falls and is killed when her head hits some stones, the briefest moment of normal human fear and remorse flickers through his eyes, before they shut down again.

And so this is the atmosphere and setting in which the action unfolds, one in which nothing is simple, as a girl named Sayra rides on a train top with a father she barely knows because he's spent most of her life living in New Jersey. She encounters a gang member named Casper, who becomes her unlikely travel companion after he somewhat unintentionally (and yet perhaps entirely intentionally) severs his ties with his gang and as a result, must try to escape their very long reach, lest he too become dinner for the dogs. And so, again in a way that is not simple, a story of hope and a dangerous bid for freedom becomes intermixed with a literal attempt at escape -- a perilous chase superimposed upon an already difficult odyssey.

Though this blog is anything but spoiler-free, I'm not going to give away the ending. But I found this film very surprising - I went into it expecting it to be heavy and depressing. It was very heavy indeed, but in a way that was well worth watching and not at all what I expected. I would totally recommend it.

There are some trailers online as well:

One here and another one here. I don't know if it's going to get a wide release, but it looks like it was picked up by Focus Films, and you can check out their site here.

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