Freighted Refuge (excerpt)

For full text, visit : Latin American Review of Books.




Clouds dominate the upper half in one of Sin Nombre‘s (2009) theatrical release posters, as though a tropical storm is tracking the freight train below, carrying passengers on its rooftop through lush-green countryside. This poster’s centre of gravity is a face, of a young woman looking straight at us, framed in delicate fortitude; and immediately behind her is a young man whose line of sight appears engaged on thoughts that vegetate on the tropical landscape the train is passing through.

A native of Honduras, Sayra is the young woman in the poster, played by rising Mexican-actor Paulina Gaitán, and the young man is Casper of Chiapas, Mexico, portrayed by non-professional actor Edgar Flores from Honduras. Two years before this film was released, Gaitán had worked with Kevin Kline in Trade (2007) as a Mexican girl auctioned online for paedophiles. There are vague traces of that girl’s fragility in Gaitán’s Sayra, whose solemn sweetness and strength provide illusions of respite against the script’s controlled accretion of violence embodied in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational gang with a chapter in the city of Tapachula in Chiapas, which Casper is a member of.

As a marero, Casper is wary about cultivating a private life; but he pursues one anyway, to nourish a budding romance – as Willy, not Casper – with Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia), whose fragile beauty appears out-of-place in the film’s harsh world, and is soon discarded after following Casper to a gang meeting in a cemetery. Casper immediately suffers punishment before his homies for hiding Martha from them, while their leader – Tenoch Huerta Mejia’s menacing Lil’ Mago – absconds her to a semi-private enclosure under the intimate shade of a tree. Fukunaga takes advantage of this scene for something that complements our perceptions of Lil’ Mago whose face and naked upper-body presents a delirious labyrinth of tattoos, dripping of death, religion, brotherhood, and other icons of pride. When Martha hits her head on a tombstone after resisting his advances and never moves again, the brief shock that freezes Lil’ Mago’s face appears like a seed for an apology to Casper later, who would never know her death was an accident. Instead, Lil’ Mago simply informs Casper that “the Devil took her,” after leaving Martha under the tree.

Martha’s death enrages Casper quietly, as Lil’ Mago continues to hold the plot’s momentum, when he chooses Casper and a new recruit named Smiley for a routine robbery on a freight train carrying US-bound migrants. Obligation and pride simmers in the new recruit’s sense of focus in collecting wallets and other material possessions, sentiments not replicated in Casper. Still mourning over Martha, Casper’s concentration to be in the robbery has been faltering, which Lil’ Mago has noted with friendly nonchalance, ever since the triumvirate boards the train discretely. However, the object of Casper’s concentration acquires a new focus when the gang leader puts his hand on one of the female passengers they are robbing. This harassment punctures Casper’s rage, and inspires him to rescue the girl. Soon, the energy of the script shifts into a narrative of escape after Casper raises his machete and lands its blade on the gang leader’s neck. Smiley’s flight from the interrupted robbery is burdened with confusion, fear, and the image of Lil’ Mago’s dead body with a leg now sliced in half on the tracks, after Casper pushes him down the boxcar rooftop they are on.

Now alone, Casper takes refuge on the train he once terrorized, and survives unsuccessful attempts against his life. Over time, the girl Casper saves – Sayra – develops feelings for him that forces her to separate with her father and uncle, to follow Casper who secretly leaves the train one morning. Casper and Sayra’s moments together deepen against Mara members in Mexico and the US now searching for Lil’ Mago’s assassin, a hunt that ends where Casper’s blood converges with the color of the setting sun on the Rio Grande River, while Sayra crosses its dark waters alone.


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1 comment:

EILEEN said...

Hey Michael,
Lost your email addy. Can you email Moi please...
best
Eileen Tabios