Sin Destino (Spanish)

Mexican filmmaker Leopoldo Laborde says his “Sin Destino” (“Without Destiny”) was inspired by Luis Buñuel’s 1950 Neorealist classic “Los Olvidados.” While I haven’t seen Buñuel’s film, I know enough about it to see the similarities between it and “Sin Destino,” both in plot and style. I also know enough about it to know it’s 10 times better than “Sin Destino.”

Set in the filthy underbelly of metropolitan Mexico, “Sin Destino” is about a 15-year-old boy named Francisco (Francisco Rey) who has a ferocious cocaine habit that he finances by prostituting himself to men. Francisco is not gay, though, and not just “not gay” in the way that street hustlers always say they’re “not gay.” He finds the sex unenjoyable and loathsome, and in fact longs to be with the blond-haired girl who lives in the building across the street from his buddy David (David Valdez). But women don’t pay 15-year-old boys for sex (apparently); men do (also apparently).

David is a drug dealer, which is a good sort of friend to have when you’re a coke addict like Francisco. David also helps Francisco arrange his first heterosexual encounter, which goes awry when Francisco is haunted by an episode from his past that involved a creepy pedophile named Sebastian (Roberto Cobo, who starred in “Los Olvidados,” by the way).

Sebastian re-appears in Francisco’s life, offering the cash he so desperately needs but in exchange for things he so desperately doesn’t want to do. Meanwhile, Francisco’s drug habit is spiraling out of control, and a happy ending for all involved seems unlikely.

Where Laborde found the young actors Francisco Rey and David Valdez, I don’t know. There are several scenes that look like nothing more than two high school drama students performing a scene for class, complete with awkward, unnatural blocking and one-level delivery. Rey’s few moments of high intensity ring false, again with the sense that they are just an exercise, with no real emotion behind them. (Roberto Cobo, a seasoned professional on stage and screen, fares a lot better as the old pervert.)

Laborde clearly admires the old surrealist and Neorealist films that Buñuel and others made in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. He has shot “Sin Destino” in stark black-and-white (save for a few nightmarishly debauched dream and hallucination sequences appearing in full color); favors hand-held cameras, rakish angles and natural lighting; and often uses spacey, otherworldly sound effects instead of music. The film is a real trip sometimes, tarrying on Francisco’s drugged-out face or some other detail for moments at a time.

Unfortunately, the effect is not that “Sin Destino” seems like a smart homage to a classic style, but rather like a film student’s attempt to duplicate what he learned in class. The bad acting is part of it; the go-nowhere story and repetitive dialogue are additional factors.

There is something salacious about the way Laborde tells the story, too. The young leads are frequently shown fully nude, as are several female characters, and there is a lot of sex among them. (I’ll assume the actors were of legal age when the film was shot, though they don’t look it. I’m not sure what the rules are south of the border anyway.) If he’s trying to show the horrors of underage prostitution, why linger so much on their naked bodies? Why show the film at gay film festivals, and subsequently have gay-oriented TLA Releasing distribute the DVD, if your intent is NOT to let people lust after lithe nude teenagers?

In short, there is a disconnect between the film’s apparent goal (which Laborde spells out in the DVD extras) and the way it’s presented. And questionable storytelling methods aside, it’s just not a very good movie anyway.

D+ (1 hr., 37 min.; Not Rated, probably R or even NC-17 for abundant nudity and strong sexuality, as well as abundant harsh profanity and sexual dialogue.)