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Sin Nombre (R) ***

Paulina Gaitan (left) and Edgar Flores (right) star. Photo: Cary Joji Fukunaga.
Paulina Gaitan (left) and Edgar Flores (right) star. Photo: Cary Joji Fukunaga.

By Rafer Guzman, Newsday

There’s no right side of the tracks in Sin Nombre, a Romeo and Juliet story set mostly on a train traveling through impoverished Latin America. By turns violent and sweetly romantic, the film rises above its usually somber genre — the realistic immigrant movie — by creating a narrative that pulses with youthful urgency.

Writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings together two familiar characters: Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teenager immigrating to the United States, and Willy (Edgar Flores), a defector from Mexico’s murderous Mara Salvatrucha gang. A romance, or at least half of one, blossoms.

Sin Nombre, which won a Director’s Award and a Cinematography Award (for Adriano Goldman) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, marks an impressive debut for Fukunaga, who researched his film by interviewing gangsters and train-hopping with immigrants.

The work paid off. Sin Nombre comes alive in its details, from the clank of pipe-guns to the frightening facial tattoos on gang leader Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia). The film’s ending feels inevitable, but no matter: As many of its nameless traveling immigrants may find, the journey can be more rewarding than the destination.

Cast: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Tenoch Huerta Mejia.

Director/screenwriter: Cary Fukunaga.

Producer: Amy Kaufman.

A Focus Features release. Running time: 96 minutes. Violence, language, sexual content. In Spanish with English subtitles. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Aventura, South Beach.