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Sin Nombre

A harrowing, yet somewhat hopeful tale of illegal immigrants

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Cary Joji Fukanaga's film is a hybrid -- part gang story, part coming-of-age tale (with a smidgen of romantic awakening) and part docu-drama about the arduous journey illegal immigrants from Latin America undertake to reach the U.S. The film follows two teen-age protagonists whom later circumstances intertwine. Willy is a member of a violent gang in southern Mexico. Meanwhile, in Honduras, Sayra leaves with her father and uncle, traveling atop railcars north through Mexico en route to (hopefully) New Jersey, where her recently deported father has another family. Willy, escaping from the gang, winds up on Sayra's railcar, and the two displaced souls form a bond of survival and friendship.

This is Fukanaga's debut feature and he directs with a sure hand, weaving several threads together, into a neo-realist drama that draw real power from its hardscrabble locales and its largely nonprofessional cast.

This unsentimental film takes no stand on the contentious political squabbling over immigration, but the film's title -- "without name" -- flags the director's larger sympathies. Even if we learn only fragments about these characters -- they are, even within the narrative, primarily strangers traveling in shadows across borders -- they are nonetheless individuals and not simply part of a faceless monolith tagged "illegals."

And their earnest belief that life elsewhere must be better is both laudable (who shouldn't strive for opportunity?) and heartbreaking (we know many outcomes will be bitter). You'll hope for Willy and Sayra, even as the film suggests its characters have little chance of escaping their current lives. Sin Nombre opens with a gorgeous shot of country lane bedecked with fall colors. But the camera shifts to reveal that it is Willy's wallpaper: It's an open road in a dream country, and no matter how hard he stares at it, this road is still a wall. In Spanish, with subtitles. Starts Fri., May 1. Manor

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