When I first saw Sin Nombre it was premiering at the Sundance Film festival. There was a palpable sense of expectation in the air, and the 1000+ seat theatre was packed. I hadn’t read anything about the film, but already I got the feeling that something special was about to happen.
The film follows the lives of Casper and Sayra, who meet on a train headed for the US/Mexico border. Would-be immigrants crowd on top of a train as it rambles through the Mexican landscape—one image that stands out in particular is a moment when the sky darkens and cracks, everyone covers themselves with garbage bags or tarps from the rain. In a moment, their faces’ sorrows, their bodies, are hidden from view. As the train unfurls under the camera, the tarps vivid diffused rain-light, like pustules, or mushroom-caps, an image emerges that could be said to stand for the film as a whole: that of individuals made suddenly invisible.
Fukunaga makes sure to show us that individuality, both at its best and its worst. Casper has recently broken with his gang, the Marasalvatruchas, and even the beleaguered travelers around him want to push him off the train. Sayra has been convinced to try to cross the border by her estranged father, who wants her and her brother to come live with his new family in New Jersey.
The plot of the film is action-packed and yet the story has room to breathe. There’s a spaciousness about this film that goes beyond the vast landscapes, and in those spaces the characters become real to us. In Sight spoke to writer/director Cary Fukunaga about his goals for this, his first feature film, which won the Best Director and Best Cinematography award at Sundance. Sin Nombre has recently been released and is running at select theaters in New York.