Sin Nombre – Carey Fukunaga (2009)

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http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/film/review.asp?rid=14321

Immigration dramas tend to be a crap shoot. Often they are too concerned with the social, political and economic injustices of the places in Central and South America that one needs to emigrate from at any cost. They are more about the whole than the part, neglecting deep characters for stereotypes and microcosms.

The problem is that these morality films are usually boring as hell. And that’s where Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga has a winner. He spends as little time dwelling on the whole as possible, instead opting for a classic road-trip story of the parts: the people who are emigrating and the gang members trying to kill one of them. It’s a leap of faith in character before culture that earned the Japanese-Swedish–American the dramatic directing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Sin Nombre follows the fortunes of Casper (Edgar Flores), a Mexican gang member on the run from his own crew, and Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teen newly reunited with her father and uncle. The family is trying to cross the border illegally to get to relatives in New Jersey. While attempting to rob the train’s illegal riders, Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta), the gang leader, tries to rape Sayra. Casper, boiling with murderous rage after Mago tried the same on his girlfriend, puts a stop to it … with his machete. Smiley (Kristian Ferrer), the gang’s newest (and youngest) initiate, begs to be given the chance to track down Casper and avenge Mago’s murder to prove he is worthy of the gang’s coveted tattoo.

Casper’s is a life of quiet desperation. Fed up with the lifestyle, he goes about gang business halfheartedly. His only refuge is the short moments he gets – at the expense of his duties – with a girlfriend that he keeps hidden from the gang. She believes his reluctance to tell his gangmates about her stems from embarrassment about their relationship, but he’s actually protecting her from a lifestyle that she is not suited to.

Sayra is only reluctantly trying to cross the border to be with her father’s new family, which she doesn’t feel a part of. He left when she was a child, but was recently deported and is trying to get back. She is as lonely a soul as Casper. Gaitan plays her with aplomb, perfectly capturing the wistful soul of a girl caught between two worlds, neither of them her own, neither of them worth the risk she’s taken to be there.

In a country that is steadily fed the idea that we need to build a fence to keep these people out of our country, we need this kind of film to keep a modicum of sanity alive in the conversation. After all, at some point in our lineage, almost all of us are immigrants.

Quick Hits on Jane Eyre – Cary Fukunaga (2011)

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-I’ve never read the novel, and the only previous adaptation I’ve seen of Jane Eyre is the one from the 40s with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles in the lead roles. It wasn’t intentional, but I couldn’t shake the idea of how much better this film could have been with this cinematography and art direction but populated with Welles and Fontaine.

-I did like Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in their own roles, but was left a little dry by their lack of chemistry in the scenes they shared. Fassbender had plenty of strength of character and an immense screen presence to occupy a role that Welles made his own, though he was maybe a little too good looking to play Mr. Rochester.

-I get excited every time I see this kind of understated-yet-lush, deep-grained, autumn-colored cinematography. This is the second time Fukunaga worked with Brazilian director of photography Adriano Goldman, who also worked one another film I find to be incredibly beautiful, Cao Hamburger’s The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. The two last teamed up on the gang/immigration drama Sin Nombe, which, again, was beautiful almost in spite of its subject matter. It’s getting increasingly rare to see this style of shooting with the mass exodus to digital. Grain structure is so important to the way light (that is, the image) shows up on film, but it’s not something video does well, because it’s not designed to. It’s designed to look sharp. Which looks like shit.