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.