Thankful for World Cinema: Sin Nombre

The film Sin Nombre opens up seeming promising enough. It tells the bound to collide tales of Casper (Edgar Flores) and new La Mara recruit Smiley (Kristian Ferrer) and a group of Honduran refugees featuring Sayra (Paulina Gaitan). With these two seemingly unrelated situations colliding and heading on a race for the American-Mexican border you’d expect a compelling, intelligent and exciting film.

Instead what you end up getting is a transplanted American action film without the pace. All the characters are archetypes and sorely underdeveloped, which is truly sad because Casper and Sayra are aptly played, and the latter is once referred to by a gang member as a young Salma Hayek – a line which could very well turn out to be prophetic. The problem with having only archetypes is that you never get beneath the surface and what you get ends up being superficial. While I could identify with the plight I couldn’t identify with those in the plight. Whereas in City of God, because of how intricately it was told, and how shocking it is, given the circumstances; I could see myself ending up like those characters – a criminal with no other choice. The gang mentality exists and I know that but for compelling drama we need to see why the characters buy into it, only the moment of doubt is clear here. A truly effective film places you in the other situation and doesn’t leave you as a spectator.

The superficiality of character would be forgivable with more pace. However, the film is so languidly told it feels as though it runs three hours, which is nearly twice as long as its actual running time. Going on an epic journey is a major investment on the audience’s part and it would be easier to take if I knew better with whom I was going.

Backstory is sadly lacking as we never quite understand why Sayra is on this pilgrammage and what exactly separated her from her family. There is discussion of deportation and a death but we never learn who she is as a person. Her attraction to Casper also seems to come quite easily. He slays her attacker and she seems to say “My hero,” but it just seems too facile. Almost instantly she says she trusts him and “as long as I’m with you I’m fine.” Why him, and not your uncle and father you ditched?

There is just too much that we are left to accept, which is different than being spoon-fed. An audience will figure things out but some things require exposition as little as a filmmaker may like to admit the fact.

When there is not enough development of character there is only so far a story can go. There is laughter without joy, shock but no loss, suspense but no fear, and worse – a film without engagement.


Make Your Own Film Festival- Pick a Country (Part 7 of 7)

Windows doesn’t discriminate between regions any longer, and neither does Macintosh. Even if they do you should get a warning when inserting a Non-Region 1 DVD (meaning one made for distribution outside the US, Canada and Mexico) saying what region it is and asking if you want to change your computer’s region. Typically, there has been a set limit on how many times you could change regions before it became a permanent switch. Even if your computer is more finicky you still have an opportunity to watch many more DVDs, many of which you can only find online, that you never thought you could before.

Some foreign films have limited appeal and distribution internationally. You should take that into account when traveling overseas and pick up some movies you won’t find in the US. Taking that in to consideration this critic made a number of purchases when in Brazil in 2008 to set up a mini-festival.

Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Alexandre Rodrigues in City of God (Miramax)

This is a film produced by Walter Salles who was at the helm of the prior breakout hit from Brazil, Central Station, it’s a tale of how the favelas got how they are, how they went from “purgatory to hell” as the film puts it. It’s a tale that weaves several threads together intriguingly it’ll start focused on a character or group of characters but also introduce other characters, then when the secondary characters come into focus the story backpedals and fills in blanks. It flashes back with style and tells a gritty story in the highest rendition of cinematic art. It not only tells a bulk of its story within a frame but also has several dovetails of jaw-dropping quality and affect. It’s also a film that proves samba can provide a score effective in all situations and reflective of all emotions. It’s a film unafraid of montage with dialogue.

One of the best films of the decade that just ended. Brazil in the past two decades has had tremendous achievements on the world cinema stage including a Best Actress award at Cannes for Sandra Corveloni in Linha de Passe. It is consistency that detractors seem to be in want of.

All in all this is a festival that showed some of the prowess, and in a few cases weakness, of Brazilian cinema. If you have seen a film from a country that intrigued you can look into creating a similar fest of your own because seeing only wide international releases doesn’t really give you a feel for a country’s cinema.