One of the more fascinating and gut-wrenching films at this year's festival, Sin Nombre managed to snag a couple of awards (Best Director and Best Cinematography in U.S. Dramatic Competition) before skipping town with a writer-director who's sure to become Hollywood's next great filmmaker. The film, while frequently heartbreaking to watch, also comes with its own unbelievable story. Focus Features became involved early on based solely on its script, and then proceeded to provide financing to a first-time feature director for a film that was entirely in Spanish and featured some main actors that had never been in a movie before. The good news for Focus is their gamble paid off, and Sin Nombre is easily one of the best films of 2009 so far.
Essentially a road trip thriller with a love story mixed in, Sin Nombre tracks the fate of three teenagers traveling through Mexico on their way toward the U.S. border. Sayla (Paulina Gaitan) is living a hard life in Honduras when her father and uncle decide it's time for the three of them to attempt to cross over into the United States and meet up with dad's "other family" in New Jersey -- full of brothers and sisters her pop fathered before he was caught and deported. But the journey is a tough one: First the trio must cross a river into Mexico, and then hop a train -- by riding on its roof -- for a three-week journey to the border. Before the train arrives, Sayla's father tells her that half the people traveling with them (100-200) will either die or be caught by border police and sent back home. Nevertheless, the promise of a better life on the other side is too appetizing to ignore.