Monday, March 19 , 2018, 5:10 pm | Fair 63º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Sin Nombre’

This dramatic and intriguing film depicts the brutal life within a gang

3 Stars — Challenging

It is difficult for those who have never experienced life within a gang to understand its power. Controlling our basic needs for food, sex, safety and belonging, a gang inverts the usual ways those needs are met and creates a demonic shadow of real life. Beating its young recruits to birth them into the family, requiring murder of a rival gang member in order to receive gang identification tattoos, and killing fellow gang members who step out of line, in every case the gang’s control is de-humanizing. In stripping a person of their soul and their name they become Sin Nombre.

But evil is most easily seen when it is contrasted with love. That is the genius of this story, written and directed by Cary Fukunaga. He not only focuses on a young gang member whose soul is troubled by the violence causing him to seek love outside of the gang’s control, but Fukanaga also weaves into this primary story the secondary tale of a young girl whose father and uncle are trying to illegally immigrate from Guatemala to the United States.

The gang member is Willy, but his gang name is El Casper (Edgar Flores). An older teen who struggles with the violence of his gang, Willy is caught. When he inducts a younger boy whom the gang names El Smiley (Kristian Ferrer), and then is forced to participate in his inductive beating, it is clear that he has no heart for it, unlike gang’s leader Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta). Lil Mago is a sociopathic person who revels in the violence while holding his own little infant in his arms.

The light into Willy’s darkness is his secret love affair with Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia). Knowing that he will have to share her with the gang if he makes his relationship known, he sneaks out to spend time with her. Martha doesn’t realize the true nature of his life and her curiosity is fatal.

Into this dark tale, Fukunaga introduces Sayra (Paulina Gaitan). Sayra is the daughter of a man who years before had illegally immigrated to the United States and has a wife and two more daughters in New Jersey. When he is deported back to Guatemala, he decides to take Sayra and his brother Orlando (Guillermo Villegas) back with him. It is on this journey that Sayra and Willy meet.

We won’t spoil the intrigue as these two tales weave together except to say that it is well told. The sorrow, the hope, the fear and the trust take on epic and spiritual overtones as the two make their way to the United States. With Fukumaga starting his cinematic career as a cinematographer, the symbolic nature of the scenes he creates are masterpieces of cinematic art.


» Unless you have been a member of a gang or a group built on violence, it is difficult to imagine this way of life being a reality. Do you believe it is, or is this cinematic embellishment?

» The naiveté and curiosity of Willy’s girlfriend costs her life. Do you believe such a person could be that naïve, or do you think she was looking for more excitement in her life? What did she mean after they had made love and she declared that she was “bored”?

» The prophecy of the psychic came true in Sayra’s life — she made it to the United States not by the hands of God but by the hands of the devil. Do you believe that this journey turned out good for her or bad?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit

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