I don't know what it is about Mexico that immediately brings to my mind images of flies buzzing around dung fires and fat, over-birthing, severely unattractive women without panties squatting in dirt.
I'm guessing it's my shortsighted bigotry and ingrained prejudices from my youth that see the Mexican culture and its people as inextricable from those scenes of poverty I have forever linked with it.
Or maybe Lou Dobbs is my long lost father.
Regardless, Sin Nombre is not the sort of film that will assist in curing me of my provincialism.
But it is a glaring and brave picture.
It's a bifurcated story - one principal is a gang member of Mara Salvatrucha in Chiapas, the other a young Honduran woman seeking passage to the U.S. - which conjoins around the film's halfway point to meld the themes of desperation, longing, loss and hope.
Just reading those words gives the impression of maudlin struggle and trite triumph over insurmountable odds, but Sin Nombre is not that story.
It's bleak and raw - defeatist and skeptical, like its characters. Happiness seems unattainable. Survival is the best one can muster.
Now, I am the last one to know what gang life in Tapachula, Mexico is like. But Willy, our ersatz protagonist for lack of a better one, seems ill suited to it. Having a conscience and a sliver of optimism does not help him. He lives mostly through the gang except for the rare occasion he can slip away and bang his hot girlfriend. His life is otherwise controlled by a motley collection of skinny, overly tattooed, petty thieves with cheap handguns, cheap whores and shitty living quarters as status symbols. They are dumb, territorially tribal idiots (what gangs are not?) who simply prey on the decent and weak. Most of their time is occupied with hazing recruits, intimidating their own through group ass-kickings (called cortes) and bitterly assassinating their rivals who are then fed to their dogs.
Surprisingly, they are really unimpressive in their menace. The Crips and Bloods would use these guys for rape parties and target practice. Hell, two guys I knew from the old neighborhood, the Karzmanski Twins, could beat the entire bunch with a tire iron and their breath. But maybe that again speaks more to the poverty of the Mara Salvatrucha's situation and not the mettle of their members. They are at least menacing enough to control and destroy the lives of the impoverished children from the barrio. And I learned they are actually quite the badasses in real life.
Drugs seemed curiously absent from the proceedings. Particularly noticeable in the fact that I don't believe I (nor any American) have ever gone to Mexico for any other reason than the procurement of narcotics or very large hats. But perhaps that is not the trade in the deepest southern climes of our "south of the border". I am, once again, not the expert here. It just seemed peculiar.
But back to the picture.
Willy gets in deep shit through an act of vengeance during a train holdup (the one on which the Honduran teenager, is traveling) and is a hunted man throughout Mexico due to the gang's underground ties and tentacled membership. He becomes a lamster. She embraces him and forms a weird, nonsensical crush.
Stick with it. It works somehow.
Sin Nombre is a gang picture.
It's a bit of a thriller.
It has a revenge motif throughout.
It approaches cinema verite.
It is a road movie.
Much like its obvious forebear El Norte, it is a document of a seldom seen subculture.
It creeps to the precipice of a love story.
It's even about family.
And it is never boring.
A seriously impressive debut from writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga.
¿No es agradable?