I’ve always thought the category of foreign films can be a little hard to define. Does foreign mean, simply not in English? Therefore are British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and etc. films not foreign? Clearly they are. One can further define ‘foreign’ by the director’s origin, the location of filming, the production company providing the funding, or the overall nationality of the cast and crew. This last criterion is really only something I use to distinguishing between Canadian and American productions. (What ARE you Battlestar Galactica!?) So for now, Ill just say, I am aware of the fuzzy definition boundaries and will review a film that is actually in another language, aka tier number one of the ‘is this foreign’ flow chart.
Sin Nombre is in Spanish with English subtitles (obviously – my grade nine Espanol studies can only get me so far). It is set in Mexico and Honduras and all the dark and gritty places in between. Warning: There is some violence in this film. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, but there is blood. The title is translated to mean ‘no name’, and thus the story centers around two young characters that both find themselves on the same train to their respective freedoms and new identities. Willy or ‘Casper’ is escaping his violent gang and Sayra is travelling with family to start a life in New Jersey. They are both lost children with the heavy experience and knowledge of an adult. This shines through both of their performances with a simplistic naturalism and quiet, unforced interactions.
The film itself is only 96 minutes so it certainly holds one’s attention throughout the events leading up to the journey, and the remaining stretch that follows. The imagery, exotic colours, and vibrancy of Mexico, is beautifully depicted, and seems to be an honest representation of life, without any contrived or ‘Hollywoodized’ grittiness. There is no melodrama in Sin Nombre. Death occurs and is both mourned and avenged without pretense. The evidence of love we see is both awkward and jealous, with no pretty ending. Brotherhood within the gang is constantly preached and yet acted out with blind blood lust. The only comfortable relationship appears to be that of Sanya and Willy, driving the films narrative and giving the audience that hard-to-grasp feeling of hope.
I would absolutely recommend this film for the heartfelt, unique, and tastefully crafted story of loyalty and dreams that it is. I’m not alone in this opinion, as the film has won a slew of awards, including The Sundance Film Festival’s Directing and Cinematography awards. It offers a sense of possibility without being trite and the suggestion of love without being conventionally romantic. It is always fascinating to learn what a relatively simple script can offer us in terms of questioning our own selves; in this case for me it was loyalty and the idea of a ‘better future’. I feel strongly that when we watch a film or television show, or even a play, set in another language or culture, we are given more of a chance to lose ourselves and disappear into a refreshingly unfamiliar world, only to then find surprising parallels and similarities that lead us back to our own little life’s nook.
You can watch Sin Nombre NOW on Netflix.com