Once in a while, a first-time director jumps onto the scene with a film that is so assured and so well-made and has such an air of vitality and realism that it’s difficult to believe he hasn’t made a dozen films already. Cary Fukunaga has pretty much done that with Sin Nombre, a favorite at this year’s Sundance Film Festival that’s now in limited theatrical release.
The story is relatively straight-forward. In one thread, teenage Sayra travels with her uncle and estranged father from Guatemala through Mexico toward the United States, where the father has started a new family in New Jersey, riding illicitly along with hundreds of others on the tops of freight trains. In the other, Caspar, a young member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, tries to balance his loyalty to the gang with his love for a girl from the right side of town. The threads inevitably come together, and while it’s not difficult to figure out most everything that happens, suspense is not what keeps you interested in the film and the lives of the people it depicts. The delicate balance between emotional care for these individuals and their situations (and the broader context of illegal immigration) and the unsentimental, unwavering style kept me rapt for the entire film, and I wanted to keep the experience with me all day.