Saturday, August 22, 2015

694. EL NORTE (1983)

Running Time: 139 minutes
Directed By: Gregory Nava
Written By: Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas
Main Cast: Zaide Silvia Gutierrez, David Villalpando, Ernesto Gomez Cruz, Lupe Ontiveros, Trinidad Silva
Click here to view the trailer


I went to write my El Norte review tonight and I noticed that the scroll pad seems to have crapped out on me. You'd think I'd be pissed, but actually, that's a good thing! When I used to write reviews away from my computer, using the laptop keyboard, my wrist would always graze across the scroll pad and I'd end up highlighting and deleting everything. I never could figure out how to disable the scroll pad, so it was always up to me to drag myself to my desk to write reviews. Anyway, now I'm in bed, comfortable and ready to present my thoughts on El Norte. Shall we?

The film is split into three, distinct sections, the first section titled "Arturo Xuncax" and set in Guatemala. While attempting to form a labor union among his fellow bean pickers, Arturo Xuncax (Cruz) is murdered when the meeting is raided by government troops. Following his funeral, where his wife and two children - Rosa (Gutierrez) and Enrique (Villalpando) - mourn for their beloved patriarch, Arturo's wife is kidnapped by the same, ruthless Guatemalan government. It is then that Rosa and Enrique decide that if they want to survive, they must head north to the United States (hence the title, spanish for The North). Rosa goes to her godmother, who gives her enough money to make it to America and Enrique arranges for a "coyote" (a guide who will take the siblings into the states) to meet up with the siblings in Tijuana. Part Two is entitled "Coyote" and takes place in Mexico, primarily in Tijuana, as the siblings hitch a ride with a truck driver and eventually land in the impoverished city. At first, they find out that the coyote Enrique's friend arranged has moved and are then conned by a man who at first seems friendly, but then tries to rob them. They manage to find the coyote they'd been looking for and though he's out of the business of transporting immigrants, decides to take them to the border anyway. The final section is called "The North" and takes place in the U.S., as the siblings do their best to make ends meet, with Enrique taking a job at a fancy restaurant and Rosa beginning work cleaning houses. I won't say anything for risk of spoiling anything, but lets just say that the ending is pretty intense and pretty perfect, to boot.


I've got to say, I didn't expect much from this. For one, I'd never heard of it going in and after reading the Netflix sleeve, it didn't particularly sound like something I'd be into anyway. However, mark this down as one of the biggest surprises and best treats to come out of THE BOOK in a while. Normally it's THE BOOK delivering disappointments, as opposed to pleasant surprises, so it was a nice breath of fresh air to sit down on a Saturday morning/afternoon and take in El Norte. Sure, recent favorites of mine like Fitzcarraldo and Scarface were better, but this proved to be a strong candidate heading into the next TOP 20 list and yet another movie to thank THE BOOK for making me watch, that I probably wouldn't have given a second look at otherwise.

I really don't know what to say, in terms of the actual film, as far as praise goes. I liked it and that's pretty much that. I will say though, that ending....oh, that ending! The whole thing with Rosa getting sick and Enrique prepared to take a job in Chicago so that he could get his green card. It literally could've went down a dozen different ways and I think they'd all have been perfectly acceptable. And then it's revealed that Rosa's sickness was caused by the rats in the sewer drain, drawing back to that earlier, terrifying scene. According to Ebert's review, the actress that played Rosa was actually afraid of rats and the rats used were real, clearly. It makes the scene that much more frightening, knowing that this person's fear is very real. It's particularly terrifying to me, considering I have a bit of a phobia toward enclosed spaces AND rats - yuck!

Anyway, going back to that ending, what a heartbreaker, right? Enrique realizing that conditions are bad everywhere, that luck doesn't exist and that even though he was poor in Guatemala, moving to the U.S. didn't make him any richer. In the end, the journey cost him all he had left - the love of his sister. Really, a great movie that I urge you to check out soon, whether you're a BOOK hound or not. I think most will be pleasantly surprised by the abilities and talents of all the unknowns, including the director and the stars. They were unknown to me anyway.

RATING: 7.5/10  Sorry for the shoddy review, but I'm kind of half watching something and half writing, so I was a little distracted. They can't all be winners, son.


August 22, 2015  10:51pm

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