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Overall Rating
4.51

Awesome75.51%
Worth A Look: 12.24%
Average: 4.08%
Pretty Bad: 4.08%
Total Crap: 4.08%

2 reviews, 37 user ratings


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El Norte
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by Slyder

"Highly original and accurate for its time (Spanish translation inside)"
5 stars

Well, at least Gregory Nava did one good film in his career, actually two since he also did the soapy but still effective Mi Familia (My Family), but this film is his unquestionably his best. El Norte (The North) is quite a movie, an independent film praised for his accuracy of immigrant life in the US. In certain ways, I see it at times like a Centro-American version of John Schlessinger’s Midnight Cowboy minus the sex. Low-key and a times moving and hard to watch, El Norte nevertheless is effective at delivering it’s message.

The plot is like Midnight Cowboy, people leaving their hometown in pursuit of the American dream only to realize that in reality it can be a nightmare. Rosa and Enrique Xuncax (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez and David Villalpando, both giving great peroformances) are daughter and son of Arturo (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) and Lupe Xuncax (Alicia Del Lago), a Quiche Indian family in the town of San Pedro in Guatemala, which is surrounded by the beautiful forest and coffee plantations that are the source of work of the people there (great photography by James Glennon). The government for the longest time has oppressed the Quiche Indians as they work through the night sowing and reaping coffee for the high company bosses, and they have finally decided to take action against them; as Arturo would say to his son “To the rich, we’re nothing but a pair of strong arms.” Arturo is one of the main conspirators and rallies followers to a secret meeting, but when a snitch peters out their location of the meeting to the Military, they kill the conspirators and killing and decapitating Arturo in the process. Soon the Military take away the remaining “rebel” families from the town, Lupe amongst them. It’s there at that moment that Rosa and Enrique, fueled by the American magazines from one of their friends, decide to go north, through Mexico and to the United States. As the journey progresses Rosa and Enrique grow stronger together as they endure the hardships of the trip and the last test of crossing the border thanks to a fellow “coyote” (human smuggler), only to find that life in the United States is not all that it appears to be and that life can be really hell for illegal immigrants.

It’s plain to see that the film’s budget is fairly cheap (due to the fact that this is an indie film), but Nava turned that weakness into one of his strengths as it brings one of the most realistic portrayals of immigrant life and their struggles and hardships. Pretty much everything about this film is true from the very beginning. The whole trial and tribulation that Rosa and Enrique have to endure from the very moment their parents are taken away from, the whole difficulty of crossing the border, the disguising attempt as Mexicans in front of INS officers (an effective comic, but deadpan accurate moment), up until their arrival to the US, in which they realize due to their own ignorance that everything is not a rose gardened road, since they have to hike job after job, deal with shitty salaries, and fear of deportation. Nava masterfully handles stereotypes as strengths. Since we see the film practically through the eyes of Rosa and Enrique, you can hear the predominance of Mexican music when they’re in Mexico, as they reach the US, American music is heard. Also, Mexicans see Centro-Americans as ignorant savages, while Americans see them all as ignorant savages, whether they’re from Mexico or Guatemala, and for them they’re all the same. The compare/contrast scene in Tijuana where you can see the beautiful houses on the other side of the border compared to the filth in Tijuana is also exceptional since pretty much shows the disguise of the hell they’re about to encounter due to their status and their ignorance. All these things are still present even in our times and that’s one of the reasons this film is so enduring.

The film’s core though is the relationship of Rosa and Enrique, and how united they are as a family and the dreams they have, even if they are far from reach, but as a better job and a possible legalization is offered to Enrique, he has to question himself about the degree of family values and his own better being. Only through their belief and love of each other they can find the strength and the will to survive, but as they would later find out after so much loss, that the oppression of their own country is also present even in the north. The only difference being that it’s a different country with different masters, but still the same shit for people like them.

In the end, despite the fact that the film is a bit slow and too low-key for it’s own good, this is one film worth watching for everyone, especially people that think that going to the US is all days of bread and wine and roses. Probably the most realistic portrayal of illegal immigrant life out there, especially when you realize that this film was made over 20 years ago. It puzzles me that a film as important as this one is out of print or not out on DVD, but who knows. [conspiracy theory]Maybe the government doesn’t want you to watch the awful truth[/conspiracy theory]. 4.5-5

Spanish Translation

Sumamente original y exacta para su tiempo


Bueno, al menos Gregorio Nava hizo una buena película en su carrera, a decir verdad dos peliculas ya que él hizo también el telenoveloso pero efectivo Mi Familia, pero esta película es indudablemente su mejor. El Norte una película sorprendente, una pelicula independiente aplaudida por su certeza sobre la vida de inmigrante en los EEUU. En ciertas maneras, yo lo veo a veces como una versión Centro-Americana de El Vaquero de Medianoche de John Schlessinger, menos el sexo. Tenue y a veces conmovedora dificil de ver, El Norte no obstante es efectivo en entregar su mensaje.

El complot es como Vaquero de Medianoche: Personas que salen su pueblo de origen en el persecución del sueño Americano sólo para darse cuenta de que en la realidad hasta puede ser una pesadilla. Rosa y Enrique Xuncax (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez y David Villalpando, con gran actuaciones) son hijo e hija de Arturo (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) y Lupe Xuncax (Alicia Del Lago), una la familia de indios Quiché que viven en el poblado de San Pedro en Guatemala, que es rodeado por el bosque hermoso y los arboles cafeteros donde la gente de ahí se gana la vida (gran cinematografia de James Glennon). El gobierno ha oprimido por much tiempo a los indios Quiché ya que ellos trabajan hasta la noche sembrando y cosechando café para los altos jefes de las compañías, y los Quiche finalmente han decidido rebelarse contra ellos; como Arturo le diría a su hijo “Para el rico, nosotros no somos nada mas que un par de brazos fuertes.” Arturo es uno de los conspiradores principales y junta a los seguidores a una reunión del secreto, pero cuando un soplon le informa el lugar de la reunión al Ejército, ellos van y los matan, tambien matando y decapitando a Arturo en el proceso. Pronto el Ejército lleva a las sobrantes “familias rebeldes” del pueblo, Lupe entre ellos. En ese momento, Rosa y Enrique, absorbidos por las revistas Americanas de uno de sus amigos, deciden ir al norte, via México y rumbo a los Estados Unidos. Durante el viaje Rosa y Enrique son mas unidos que nunca mientras tratan de resistir las dificultades del viaje con la última prueba siendo cruzar la frontera Americana gracias a la ayuda de un amigo “coyote” (contrabandista humano), sólo para encontrar que la vida en los Estados Unidos no es todo que parece ser y de que la vida puede ser realmente un infierno para los inmigrantees ilegales.

Es facil ver que el presupuesto de la película es bastante barato (ya que es una pelicula independiente) pero Nava convierte esa debilidad en una de sus fuerzas ya que depicta uno de los retratos más realistas de la vida del inmigrante ademas de sus luchas y dificultades. Practicamente todo lo de esta película es verdad desde el principio. La aflicción entera que Rosa y Enrique tienen que aguantar desde el momento que sus padres son arrebatedos de ellos, la dificultad entera del cruce de la frontera, el intento de pasarse como Mexicanos ante los oficiales de migracion o la Migra (un momento effectivamente cómico pero exacto), hasta su llegada a los EEUU, donde se dan cuenta debido a su propia ignorancia que todo no es un camino de flores, ya que tienen que ir buscando trabajo tras trabajo, tratar con salarios jodidos, y vivir con el temor de la deportación. Nava maneja magistralmente los estereotipos como fuerzas. Ya que vemos la película prácticamente por los ojos de Rosa y Enrique, se puede oír el predominio de la música mexicana cuando ellos estan en México, cuando llegan a los EEUU, la música Americana predomina. También se ve como los Mexicanos ven a Centro-Americanos como salvajes ignorantes, mientras los Americanos los ven a todos salvajes ignorantes no importa si son de México o de Guatemala, ya que se ven iguales para ellos. En la escena en Tijuana se ve un compara/contraste donde se puede ver que las casas hermosas en el otro lado de la frontera, comparada con la suciedad en Tijuana. Esta escena es excepcional ya qu se ve practicamente el disfraz del infierno ellos estan apunto de sufrir debido a su clase y su ignorancia. Todo estas cosas hasta ahora son presentes en nuestros tiempos y esa es una de las razones la que esta película es memorable.

No obstante, en el centro de la pelicula esta relación de Rosa y Enrique, y lo unidos que son como familia y los sueños que ellos tienen, aunque esten muy distantes del alcanzar, pero cuando un mejor trabajo y una posible legalización son ofrecidos a Enrique, él tiene que preguntarse acerca del los valores de su familia y su propio bien. Sólo por su creencia y amor al uno al otro podran encontrar la fuerza y el poder para sobrevivir, pero como ellos averiguarían después de tanta pérdida, la opresión de su propio país esta presente aun en el norte. La única diferencia es de que es un país diferente con maestros diferentes, pero con la misma basura para gente como ellos.

A las finales, a pesar de que la película sea demasiado tenue y un poco lenta para su propio bien, esta es una pelicual que vale la pena ver y que es para todos, especialmente personas que piensan que yendo a vivir a los EEUU es todo el día pan y vino y rosas. Probablemente retrato más realista de la vida ilegal de un inmigrante, especialmente cuando se da cuenta de que esta película se hizo hace mas de 20 años. Me desconcierta que una película tan importante como ésta está agotada y que no este disponible en DVD (aquí en EEUU), pero quien sabe. [teoría conspiracional] Quizá el gobierno no quiere que sepa la atroz verdad [/teoría conspiracional]. 4.5-5

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4474&reviewer=235
originally posted: 07/08/04 07:59:39
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/18/14 wmckqeq USA 2 stars
8/23/13 PAUL SHORTT MOVING, COMPASSIONATE AND BEAUTIFUL 5 stars
2/02/13 David Hollingsworth Amazing, and criminally underrated. 5 stars
10/01/12 carl use it in spanish class where i teach...still very much in swing with what is going on now 5 stars
8/29/12 Alex Figueroa It was interesting. Watched it in Spanish class in HS. 3 stars
2/07/09 Inger Nielforss Has anything changed since the film was made? 5 stars
10/29/08 Andrea Coverman Excellent Film 5 stars
4/30/08 kj difficult to understand..Rosa and Enrique were "siblings" but got uncomfortably touchy 2 stars
3/27/08 Heather Sawyers i didn't get it. 1 stars
6/09/07 DAVID BARBOZA ALL HISPANICS SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE!!! 5 stars
5/31/07 Lee Cassidy Even though the innocence of the central characters is a little difficult to believe and th 4 stars
9/03/06 Joe Cox A Guatemalan (Chapin) friend once said, it costs nothing to fight if you're already dead. 5 stars
5/12/06 Profesasora Emily Gaffney It totally rocks my socks! 5 stars
11/19/04 Marion Fague-Bass I've seen this movie countless times and never tire of its truth and beauty. 5 stars
9/01/04 Margaret Sypniewski Great Movie if a bit sad. Love the authenic locale and music 5 stars
8/27/04 David Villalpando sometime i like pooping 1 stars
7/09/04 Colin M. Demge very sad but pertinent film. makes one think. 4 stars
5/25/04 anonymous an amazing film with a great massage behind it. 5 stars
5/12/04 Alfredo L Filler Moving 4 stars
4/29/04 Tino Quiles outstanding truth movie 5 stars
4/27/04 Jesse Washburn gives a different look on life 4 stars
3/09/04 moondog Excellent film. Thought the brother and sister were a liiiitle too close though. 5 stars
3/03/04 ZeoNeo Superb Movie in so many aspects 5 stars
12/03/03 Bob Good 5 stars
11/13/03 james nozzel this film is truely amazing. i can safely say that YOU should watch it... see it. digest. 5 stars
10/19/03 KittenCat Very moving 4 stars
8/04/03 large penis i have a large penis 5 stars
5/01/03 Roboticus Excellent film: explores implications of US policy re: Guat 36 yr civil war, & refugee pols 5 stars
4/28/03 michelle very very good film 5 stars
4/22/03 Ana Great 5 stars
4/22/03 Amy Excellent movie and great directing, everyone should know this story! 5 stars
3/05/03 Ryan Boone The sociological archetypes are hugely compelling. 4 stars
3/04/03 Fawad Faraz True that 5 stars
2/22/03 Bo Mendez This movie is definitely worth seeing! 5 stars
2/18/03 Charles Tatum Touching and fascinating 5 stars
12/06/01 Andre' Must see!!! Great movie. 5 stars
9/17/00 UrsasMar Pretty good if you can get over the fact that they say El Norte too much. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Sep-1983 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jan-2009

UK
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