El Norte - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

El Norte Reviews

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½ August 16, 2012
The New American Dream

I really think it says something about us as a nation that people are willing to crawl through tunnels of rats to get into our country. I mean, okay, this movie is fiction. On the other hand, it's about a lot of things that are real and are still happening, even thirty years later. The filmmakers' experiences with the Mexican police are pretty awful, and they weren't poor Indian peasants from who-knows-where. And indeed, the scenes filmed in the immigration offices were a bit scary for the actors, because it turns out that they didn't have legitimate work permits for the United States. In other words, the scenes which end with the characters' getting deported could have ended with the actors' getting deported. No one overstepped their boundaries, but it would have been perfectly legal and a legitimate use of their authority. However, all that is still better than, say, facing death squads, as the characters would have done if they had stayed in Guatemala.

Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez) Xuncax are of Mayan descent. They live in a small village in Guatemala where they hear stories about [i]El Norte[/i]--the North. However, they never think they'll go there and think they'll live and die pretty much the way their people always have. However, their father, Arturo (Ernesto Gómez Cruz), is part of a unionization movement, and he is killed by the forces of the government, which isn't well disposed toward the Maya at the best of times. Enrique and Rosa pretty much have the choice of flee or die, so they make their way out of Guatemala. They go through Mexico. In Tijuana, a coyote (Abel Franco) helps them across the border, and Enrique and Rosa become part of the great mass of illegal immigrants into the United States. She works in a sweatshop and then as a housekeeper, and he gets a job as a busboy. And they struggle to better their lives as immigrants have always done.

Indeed, quite a lot of their experience isn't unusual, starting with the fact that they both work to learn English. Indeed, it's worth noting that their teacher is herself of Asian descent. Their class is multicultural, though Rosa's new friend, Nacha (Lupe Ontiveros), is astonished that Rosa thinks the [i]gringos[/i] would live among the Hispanics. Nacha is herself undocumented, as evidenced by her statement to Rosa that she never works anywhere that she can't find an escape route out of in case [i]inmi[/i] comes calling. Enrique, too, makes a good friend who is an illegal immigrant, and they look down upon those Hispanics whose families have been in the US long enough that they have lost their Spanish. Which is, eventually, pretty much all of them. It is because of this dispute that Enrique loses the good job he has gotten as a busboy, one where he is able to get a better job as his English improves. And, no, Rosa doesn't understand the washing machine, but she's still good at her job.

Of course, it's true that the movie does not focus on any potential damage to American society caused by illegal immigration. I think pretty much everyone can agree that Rosa, at least, did absolutely nothing in Guatemala to merit having her life so in danger, and Enrique only did a little more, nothing to the extent of validating death squads. They are noncontroversial heroes for a film about illegal immigration. It is also true that the movie acknowledges that there are a lot of people in Tijuana making a lot of money of poor, desperate people like Enrique and Rosa--and not all of them are as benevolent as Raimundo. The life Enrique and Rosa live in the US, to our eyes one of astonishing degradation and desperation, is one of wonder to them. They have a flush toilet and electric lights. Yes, it's still pretty terrible in a lot of ways, but it becomes possible to them that they will be rich enough to own their own car. Enrique made twenty dollars in a day!

And, you know, no one was hanging anyone's head from a tree. Honestly, the only way to stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the US is to improve conditions in the countries from which they come. At the time this film was made, life was difficult for people like Enrique and Rosa because the Guatemalan government was still enforcing the separation of the native population from those of European descent which had been in force for centuries. As Arturo tells Enrique, all they want from his people are a pair of strong arms. The dream of [i]El Norte[/i] is a place where a person is not solely defined by who their ancestors were, a place where you can better yourself through your own hard work. Of course, as Rosa points out, once you do get there, they don't want you. On the other hand, Enrique's boss was paying Enrique less in a day than he spent making floral arrangements. You could tell they provided Enrique with a meal, because he couldn't afford to eat there on what he was paid.
½ May 3, 2012
Watched in Spanish class, not bad!
April 3, 2012
wonderful film about two immigrants who leave their village in guatemala for fear of persecution and immigrate to the US illegally. For those of you who are against immigration of any sort, you must see this film. For those of you who aren't, see it too. It is an important film to see and who would have thought that the same director also directed Selena!!!
March 28, 2012
powerful, deeply moving, provoking and well-spoken
another film about Latino immigrants escaping to the U.S. in hopes to find freedom, solidarity, and opportunity
the brother and sister are very sympathetic as they try to flee from the dangers of the law and the harsh reality of their native land
it really spoke to me; Im proud to be Guatemalan and understand much of the corruption and oppression that lurks in Mexico and many other parts of the world
freedom is indeed not free and these characters do contemplate where they truly belong
well-intentioned, hard at times but mostly speaks to the audience
"El Norte" succeeds in its own way
January 18, 2012
I enjoyed this film. It is very telling of the plight of not only the illegal population but of the US population and its ills. I do no support illegal immigration of any kind. Its hurting our country now. I do support immigrants rights and needs to work and think a better system could be devised to appease and help both. We see in this film that illegals look at Americans as cuckoo for not regulating them. Its an interesting and true take. I watched this film to better educate myself and must say i truly did. Good Job and excellent film.
January 1, 2012
The superlative immigration movie; covers each stage of the journey with great insight, from the trouble at home, to the border crossing, and life in the north. Boosted tremendously by two wholly sympathetic and optimistic leads.
½ December 10, 2011
El Norte is a beautiful, yet tragic and realistic look at the struggles of starting a new life in a new country.
September 30, 2011
Under today's standards it'd be seen as playing the sympathy card a little too much (at all is a sin, anyways). But it is remarkable to see how the story of illegal immigration hasn't changed at all in the past 25 years, save the fact that it's spread from LA to the entire country. The film also effectively spans multiple genres: thriller, horror, comedy, and tear-jerking drama.
July 13, 2011
Enrique and his sister, Rosa, are Indians native to Guatemala. Their father works on a plantation in the mountains but is also part of a rebellion group against the government. Sadly, this rebellion group is found out by army officials and is ambushed one night, in which their father is killed. In addition, Enrique ventures out to find his father, only to see his decapitated head hanging from a tree and to be attacked by a soldier, only to kill him in the end. As a result, Enrique, Rosa, and their mother are now threats to the government. Tragically, their mother is taken, and the two them go into hiding, only to decide that immigrating up north (El Norte) to the United States via Mexico is the best option.

The film is a fascinating and emotional examination of the life of immigrant escaping possible deadly consequences in their home country. We, the viewer, examine the heart-wrenching process of escaping to the United States and adjusting to new circumstances of their homes and English. It is an honest and sad representation of the immigrants heading to the United States. Cinematography and present day setting add to the assets of this film. Interestingly, the score heard at approximate at 35 minute point, as well as the end, of this film is same exact score used in "Platoon" three years later. I suppose that Oliver Stone found this score to be a perfect match for his frightening Vietnam War movie. I just hope he also credited "El Norte's" director in the process. My assumption is he did.
June 25, 2011
very much of its time it chronicles the unrest in guatemala in the '80's as a brother & sister must fllee to escape the army hunting them after their parents r both killed by the army. Criterion as usual does a bang up job loaded with extras and a great restored print.
June 14, 2011
Ebert, a great champion of this flick, finds it simple and poetic. I'm afraid I find it simplistic and trite - even amateurish.
Super Reviewer
½ April 30, 2011
I'm sort of embarrassed that I like this so much, especially the part when it devolves into a horror story because of THE MICE OH MY GOD THE MICE, but I don't know - it's also kind of charming in its own simple way.
April 16, 2011
A must see movie. One of my all time favorites. Favorite scene: Explaining how to say "it is hot" like a Mexican.
April 3, 2011
Story of a Hispanic brother and sister and their quest to improve their life in California---sad movie
March 27, 2011
A look at the beginning to end stages of immigration from Guatemala to the US. While the main characters are neat--especially Rosita--it is really the various side characters that steal the show, whether it is the coyote who helps them over the border or the lady who takes Rosita under her wing in LA. There are very few moments of peril in the film, but those where are present are very well shot. While the movie starts off slowly, once the siblings start their journey it moves at a brisk pace, even for its 2+ hour run time.
March 18, 2011
Watched this in high school. Hard movie to sit through.
February 27, 2011
It's good that it's still relevant. It's bad that it's still relevant.
January 11, 2011
Excellent melodrama about illegal imigration...And fuck you to anyone who doesn't like this film or won't see it because of the pro illegal immigration in the film. I love Das Boot but don't like the Nazi party. I love Man Bites Dog but don't like Serial Killers (well on a curiosity and study level I do). You get the idea, put aside you beliefs and understand these people.
December 19, 2010
Certainly a landmark film. Would have been an outright classic with better lighting and a better ending.
½ November 21, 2010
A Guatemalan brother and sister escape from the military oppression of their native village for a better life in America, predictably, they find the American dream isn't all what it's cracked up to be. It's a very familiar story and pretty much touches upon the basic plot points but the performances of the two leads are outstanding and the film is gorgeously shot. The film has unforgettable and thought-provoking moments (like the scene in the tunnel) and is a definite must-see for anyone with a strong opinion on illegal immigration in the U.S.
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