Sin Nombre

Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, a Student Academy Award winner making his feature debut, “Sin Nombre” premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Directing and Cinematography Awards.   Focus Features will release the Spanish-language film in March.


The filmmaker's firsthand experiences with Central American immigrants seeking the promise of the U.S. serve as the basis of this story.  As a border drama, “Sin Nombre,” which translates into “No Name,” is more compelling and realistic than other films, such as the recent Wayne Kramer's disappointing L.A.-set “Crossing Over,” starring Harrison Ford.

The text centers on Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a restless, attractive teenager living in Honduras, yearning for a brighter future outside her country.  A potential reunion with her long-estranged father is Sayra's only option for such change. She plans to emigrate into Mexico and then the U.S., where her father now has a new family in New Jersey.  Early on, she's asked to repeate numerous times his American phone number, which is a key to their reunion.

Fukunaga interweaves two parallel sagas, which in the film's second half begin to merge until they form one unified tale.  The feature's other protagonist is Casper, a.k.a. Willy (Edgar Flores), a teenager living in Tapachula, Mexico, facing an uncertain future. A member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang brotherhood, he has just brought to the group a new recruit, the 12-year-old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), who undergoes a rough, ritualistic initiation before he's fully accepted. 


After some slow, uncertain steps, Smiley quickly takes to gang life, which bears resemblance to rites of passage of a military basic training, only it involves children.  The sight of young boys trained to rob and to shoot in cold blood is frightening.

Meanwhile, Casper tries to protect his relationship with his girlfriend Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia), keeping their love as a secret from Mara's ruthless honcho.  When Martha encounters Tapachula's Mara leader Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), she is brutally raped and beaten, which cost her her life. All of these harrowing dramatic events happen in the first reel, setting the context for the meeting of Sayre and


Sayra and her relatives manage to cross over into Mexico, where they join other immigrants waiting at the Tapachula train yards. The image of a U.S.-bound freight train arriving at a crowded station, with the immigrants rushing to board, is both scary and exciting to behold.  They are riding atop the train, rather than in cars, as does Lil' Mago, who has commandeered Casper and Smiley to rob the immigrants of the money they have saved to cross the border.

The interaction between the two sets of characters is what gives “Sin Nombre” its novel dramatic angle, and for a while, the movie combines successfully elements of a classic immigrants border saga with that of a gangster story, with a new twist.

When Lil' Mago makes his move on some immigrants, Casper, still suffering from the loss of his lover, faces a moral dilemma which calls for a fateful decision. Casper must navigate the psychological gauntlet of his violent existence and the physical one of the unforgiving Mara.


It's impossible to tell the rest of the plot with spoiling the suspense, and on one level, the film works as a thriller.  Suffice is to say that at a crucial moment, Sayra bravely allies herself with Casper the train journeys through the Mexican countryside towards the hope of new lives.  Their evolving friendship, with intimation of care and love, is credible but rather predictable, and while pulling the viewers closer to the characters, it also slows down the momentum of the other narrative strands.


Occasionally, “Sin Nombre” inevitably crosses the lines from a devastating emotional saga to a more sentimental feature.  All the cards point to a fateful confrontation between Smiley, who's now a committed gang member, and Casper, whose main goal is to help Sayre cross the river.  We also anticipate that only one of them will make it.




Paulina Gaitan

Edgar Flores

Kristyan Ferrer

Tenoch Huerta Mejia

Diana Garcia

Luis Fernando Pena

Hector Jimenez.



A Focus Features presentation of a Primary Productions/Canana production.

Produced by Amy Kaufman.

Executive Producers, Gerardo Barrera, Pablo Cruz, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal.

Written and Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Director of Photography, Adriano Goldman.

Music by Marcelo Zarvos.

Music Supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein.

Costume Designer, Leticia Palacios.

Editors, Luis Carballar and Craig McKay.

Production Designer, Claudio “Pache” Contreras.

Casting by Carla Hool.