Sin Nombre: Sundance Favorite Hits Limited Release

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A few nights ago, Jon Stewart made fun of Lou Dobbs for a recent tirade against illegal immigrants, exclaiming: “Illegal immigrants? Wake up, Rip Van Winkle! D’you fall asleep in June 2008? Nobody gives a shit about them anymore!”

We agree with him in the political sense — there are so many real scapegoats on which to blame our economic problems now! — but their stories might come back into full focus in the cultural sense, as this year’s first international critical darling, Sin Nombre, gains momentum. Centered around a runaway Mexican gang youth and his Honduran girl companion as they seek to cross the border into the US, Sin Nombre — Sundance Lab alumnus Cary Joji Fukunaga’s directorial debut — has already won Best Director and Best Cinematography at Sundance [Read our original Sundance coverage of it here].

We’ve read mostly rave reviews (spoiler-free excerpts linked after the jump), and we’re excited for its limited release this weekend — produced by Mexican superstar-sweethearts Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, directed by a first-time feature-filmmaker, and promising to be a watchable un-glossy “immigration” tale (of which there aren’t many), it sounds like it could be a new favorite.

In the most positive sense, this is the quintessential Sundance movie, the sort of film that institute organizers might have dreamed about when they launched Sundance’s Latin American outreach years ago and began inviting a wide range of aspiring filmmakers to its labs. [Variety]

What keeps the movie from tipping into full-blown exploitation like “City of God,” which turns third-world misery into art-house thrills, is Mr. Fukunaga’s sincerity. What keeps you watching is his superb eye. [NY Times]

The Mexico-set socio-political thriller by Cary Joji Fukunaga that’s coming out this weekend (!) in limited release was a revelation of filmmaking and performances. It begat the question: “Where did this director come from!?” as one has to ask themselves this after picking themselves up the ground from being floored by this astonishing debut. [The Playlist]

Fukunaga’s characters don’t always make the right decisions, but they make believable ones in the heat of battle. With vivid, unflinching details, he finds a new angle on a story of sacrifice and peril you’ve heard countless times before. [International Herald Tribune]

This thriller/love story is, in a way, a simple one, though Fukunaga plays many emotional notes before he is finished, with sentiment that is restrained rather than indulged. [LA Times]

Taken out of context—or heck, even within context—Sin Nombre’s gorgeous widescreen panoramas of tired, poor, and huddled masses heading north by train through Central America and Mexico to the Texas border are stirring in the same way as those shiploads of immigrants approaching Ellis Island in America, America or The Godfather, Part II. [A.V. Club]

…So, if you’re looking for non-studio fare this weekend (Although Duplicity and I Love You, Man are both faring quite well on critic meters), Sin Nombre is a guaranteed good option.

Update: We just got this “letter” from Cary from the Landmark Theatres. We’re adding it to the post because it’s adorable.

Dear Film Club Members,

I would like to invite you to see my first feature film, Sin Nombre, about to face the world on screens across the country. All filmmakers will consider their films personal, and perhaps nothing is more personal than the first one. This film is even more personal to me in that I risked my neck to make it, literally.

I began working on this project in 2005, not long after my short film Victoria Para Chino (based on the tragedy in Victoria, Texas, where 19 immigrants died inside of a refrigerated trailer) received an Honorable Mention at the Sundance Film Festival. While researching the short, I had learned that thousands of Central American immigrants were crossing Mexico atop freight trains, facing a maelstrom of dangers, including bandits, gangs, corrupt police, and the constant threat of deportation back to their home countries. The images conjured up a post-industrial version of our own iconic Wild West, but instead of covered wagons it was a freight train, and instead of the classic Hollywood version of “the savages” it was marauding bandits and tattoo-covered gang members who seemed to have been pulled from general casting in Mad Max. And yet this wasn’t the Wild West; it was real and it was happening, is still happening, just south of our border. This was the story I wanted to tell.

I followed the first draft with two years of research in Mexico. I spent time with gang members in and out of prisons, interviewed immigrants from Nicaragua on up to the Texas border and, ultimately, traveled with hundreds of them from Tapachula in the south of Mexico to Orizaba, Veracruz. Together we experienced hunger, braved the weather and nights of hidden dangers, and grew to depend on one another. One particularly dark night in Chiapas our train was attacked by bandits; after several gunshots and screams of chaos, a Guatemalan immigrant lay dead—he did not want to give up the little money he had to make this journey.

In the scope of things, I only shared in these moments of danger briefly, while these immigrants had to continue facing this journey on their own. But what you’ll see onscreen in Sin Nombre is an homage to their true-life stories told from the perspectives of a young girl from Honduras, Sayra, on a journey to New Jersey with a father she hardly knows, and a young gang member, Casper, whose hope for a better life may be cut short by the gang that he once called his family. The two of them will change each other’s lives forever.

For you, the audience, I hope that Sin Nombre creates an experience that is both thrilling and emotional. I hope that you can walk out of the theater having seen through the eyes of these gang members and immigrants with a sense of connection that you wouldn’t have imagined possible. I also hope you just enjoy the film for simply being a good old-fashioned post-industrial Western tale of redemption.

All my best, Cary Joji Fukunaga, writer/director