El Norte (1983)

“In our land, we have no home; here, we are not welcome.”

El Norte Poster

Synopsis:
Guatemalan siblings Enrique and Rosa (David Villalpando and Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) escape from an oppressive political regime to the “promised land” of America (El Norte), only to find that life is just as difficult across the border.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “exceptional film” about the travails of illegal immigration is “extremely moving”, and shows a side of American life not often portrayed in the movies. Fortunately, while the subject matter is relentlessly downbeat, director Gregory Nava manages to infuse some much-needed levity into certain scenes, such as when Rosa and Enrique are interrogated by the Border Patrol, and Enrique peppers his speech with swear words to pass as a Mexican (it works!). Peary laments the film’s “overly depressing” finale, noting, “The characters are already defeated — there is no need to destroy them.” But I found the ending to be appropriately authentic. This is not a film that tries to gloss over the hardships of immigration; instead, it shows that life for the working poor is difficult all over the world, and that it takes more than strong will to overcome systemic oppression.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A respectful portrayal of Mayan village life in Guatemala
    Village
  • Sensitive performances by Villalpando and Gutierrez
  • A realistic look at the hardships suffered by illegal immigrants trying to find work in America
  • A chilling scene of Rosa and Enrique crawling across the border through a rat-infested sewer

Must See?
Yes. This remains one of the most powerful films about illegal immigration to date, and deserves a release on DVD.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “El Norte (1983)”

  1. A once-must – and in overall agreement with the assessment.

    Beautifully photographed and with precise direction, this is a film that eloquently speaks for itself. (It is now generally available.)

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