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One of the outstanding aspects of this film is that it has a real narrative; there are a lot of cutbacks, the ending is odd and quite abrupt, like its unfinished; there is an inconsistency in it that was too important to ignore: why did the doctor need to have the brother see his sister in the hospital? why did the sister's friend just disappear?; its well paced; its a bit melodramatic. It could make for an interesting sequel: Ricky 35 years later (which would make him about 60).
Better than "Fast Food Nation" (How could it not be?) but a lot worse than Robert Young's "Alambrista". If the acting was not so wooden and the bathos and cliches minimalized, this could be an OK item.
WOW...I would have never thought that this movie would still be out there for viewing. I first saw the movie when I moved to Houston in 1991. I found the movie so POWERFUL. I was truly taken back by the storyline. I could not have imaged that anyone would have to flee their home for a better life. After moving to Arizona, I quickly realized that individuals do flee for a better life. Unfortunately, the USA is not as "Grand" as it is portrayed when it comes to immigrants. Regardless of what your belief is about immigrants, this is a must see movie.
melodramatic treatment of two siblings escaping from war ravaged Guatemala for a 'better life' in the north. humorously they are told to pose as Mexicans - and to prove they are from Oaxaca they should swear, using the f-word, which seems to work with the border officials as they attempt to cross into the US.
sadly, they escape from one disaster and land in another - the challenging life of illegal immigration.
Enrique and his sister Rosa are Mayan indians working on a coffee plantation in Guatemala where the aboriginal labourers are treated like disposable slaves. After a planned uprising goes terribly wrong the two siblings flee their small mountain village and begin the long trek to America where, according to their aunt’s dusty collection of “Good Housekeeping” magazines, the streets are paved with consumer goods and everyone owns a flush toilet. Braving deprivation and predatory peasants (and a sewer full of belligerent rats) the two finally find themselves in the promised land only to discover that the life of an illegal alien is not much different than the life they left. Gregory Nava’s sophomoric attempt at pricking our social conscience plays out like a Grimm fairy tale with a little brown Hansel and Gretel wandering lost through the forest of Los Angeles while being taken advantage of at every turn by cardboard caricatures of gringos and chicanos alike. As Enrique proudly practices his English while serving caviar at a private club (and sounding like Manuel on Fawlty Towers) Rosa tries to decipher the arcane workings of a modern washing machine and ends up scrubbing her rich bitch employer’s laundry on the front lawn instead. Ha ha culture shock! Nava clearly has trouble deciding whether his film is a tragedy shot through with humour or a comedy with tragic overtones although either approach fails by the time the ending rolls around: a life-changing decision is tempered by a cheesy hospital scene lifted straight from a Mexican soap opera with Barber’s Adagio for Strings playing obtrusively in the background. His heart is in the right place but a facile script that relies on every cliché it can find and a host of embarrassingly bad performances ultimately undo whatever humanitarian message was meant to be conveyed.
Somewhere along the line the classic American narrative of the immigrant experience turned sour and immigrants, rather than heroically trying to better than lives, are often vilified by right-wing politicians and pundits as illegals, threats, terrorists, and thieves of American jobs and services. "El Norte" (the North) should be required viewing for those people. After their father is killed, a brother and sister flee the violence and oppression of their small village in Guatemala to make the journey north to the U.S. Combining documentary realism with Marquez-esque lyricism, Gregory Nava's film is powerful, touching, and full of understanding and compassion for its protagonists, played by two first time actors. Roger Ebert compared it to "The Grapes of Wrath" and Variety called it the first American indie epic. Criterion gives it their usual excellent deluxe treatment. Look for the maid from "The Goonies" as Nacha. Also see "Sin Nombre."
I saw this movie when it came out in 1983, and it has stayed with me, intensely since. I haven't seen it again, but I am thrilled to have an opportunity to with this new re-issue ... remember in '83 they didn't have DVD's. I have a feeling it may be as relevant now as it was then ....
a heartbreaking movie about a brother and sister who risk their lives to come into the country illegally, and their struggle to survive once they got here.