I usually don’t like immigration movies and El Norte is definitely on my top list for one of the most depressing movies ever made. There are many beautifully sad films like Lilja 4-Ever (also an immigration film) La Vita è Bella (loosely related to immigration), Schindler’s List and Dancer In The Dark (the ultimate sad movie). So, I would like to start by saying that if you fancy supremely depressing films because after watching them you are able to appreciate how easy you’ve got it, you need to watch El Norte.
And perhaps you are like me. Maybe you don’t love films that highlight tragedy as a theme, or plot-points that take you from one bad situation to another. If that’s the case, let me surprise you by saying that there is still a chance that you’ll enjoy this film. As a brand new US citizen (muahaha!) I have gone through my fare share of BS in order to be a part of this society. As much as we all enjoy criticizing our own cultures there are some people out there, people like Arturo and Rosa from the film, people like me, that will go great lengths to walk past all those imperfections and take advantage of the opportunities that the north has to offer.
Arturo and Rosa are a brother and sister who run away from the Guatemalan Civil War in the early eighties to come to the US. It feels like the film does a good job at painting an accurate picture of rural Guatemala at this time. The director Gregory Nava does a great job at amplifying the differences between continents. During the second act, he even allows for a sporadic laugh when multi-cultural interactions full of mishaps get ridiculous. Lastly, the third act invites us to engage with some very compelling performances that make this tragic and realistic story resonate with all of us, wether the situation feels close to home or not. El Norte was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984 for Best Original Screenplay and it is also a part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. To me, specially the latter recognition is usually a good enough reason to watch this or any film.
I took my citizenship test a couple of weeks ago, a day that was more than ten years in the making. Ten years that took my time, great commitment, support from my loved ones, money… all of it for that moment. I was in a room waiting to be tested on my worthiness for probably the biggest challenge that I have decided to take onto so far. My interviewee said “you passed, congratulations” and I smiled. I walked out of that government building alone yet feeling empowered because I knew that I didn’t need anybody to congratulate me. I made it. For those of you who know exactly what I mean, watch this film and be thankful.
I give this film four (out of five) stars.