When I heard that Cary Fukunaga was attached as director to Focus Feature’s “Jane Eyre” (which opens in limited release this Friday), I have to admit that I was a little surprised. It’s not that I don’t think he’s up to the job; he’s an incredibly talented director, whose 2009 debut feature, “Sin Nombre,” was one of my favorites of that year. Rather, I was struck because an adaptation of a 19th century English literary classic is a distant jump from his prior work. Both “Sin Nombre” and his award-winning student film “Victoria Para Chino” are gritty and honest explorations of illegal immigration into the US via the Mexican border, powerful stories of humanity on the move. This short film is available on iTunes.
“Victoria Para Chino,” a thirteen minute portrayal of the border-crossing experience, is particularly focused and unencumbered by unnecessary stylistic flair. Chino, who we can assume has actually had one of the shorter journeys of his fellow travelers, is in an almost privileged position amongst the group that boards the truck bound for Houston. He, like presumably much of the audience, is unfamiliar with the grand scope of things. But unlike in “Sin Nombre,” where Fukunaga has the length of a feature film to show the intricacies of migration across Central and North America, this short film focuses on the sheer impact of a single border crossing.
Chino, naïve but also unassuming, climbs into the truck with 79 other men, women and children. Fukunaga is uncompromising; the darkness is real, and he uses sound to bring the viewer into this cramped and terrifying space in the trailer of this truck. The sense of urgency is palpable, only helped along by the bare bones imagery. As things go wrong and the confusion and panic heightens, there is only the juxtaposition of the trucker and his country radio station; he drives along, completely out of touch with the alarm going on just behind him.
But there is more to this moment than the dichotomy of trucker and immigrant. Fukunaga, like any great short filmmaker, uses the brief length of the film and an almost vérité simplicity of style to pose bold questions as abruptly as they occur outside the film. Which is more important: the health of a single passenger or the urgency of an entire group’s drive to make it into the US?
The reality of this tragedy and the scope of its theme give this film a fairly powerful punch, but it’s the close and direct filmmaking ability of its director that really drives it home. These thirteen minutes serve as a distilled exploration into a part of our world that is often dealt with only in terms of rhetoric, and do so with a palpable veracity. Check it out.