I absolutely loved watching El Norte. This film is a unique and dynamic presentation that embodies the ideas of culture, politics, injustice, art, the American dream and humanity all while educating and entertaining the viewer. I laughed all throughout El Norte and even cried a bit too, but by the end of the film I honestly felt like I had gained knowledge and understanding, which is exactly what I want out of a film like this.
El Norte tells the story of an indigenous Guatemalan family whose harsh lives had always led them to dream of the north – where even the poorest of people have a car and a flush toilet. However, Enrique and Rosa, the young adult children of the family, find themselves fighting for their lives after their father is decapitated by soldiers for his interest in forming a workers union and their mother is taken away by the same forces. Unable to live in their native land, they forge through Mexico in hopes of making it to the United States, where they hope to find freedom, opportunity and the luxuries promised by “Good housekeeping” magazine.
After crawling through a sewer and being attacked by rats, the siblings finally make it to California, where they both work hard to find jobs and learn English, all while avoiding immigration enforcement. However, they learn the hardships of the American dream through internal corruption and competition and the high cost of living that disables the family from truly getting ahead. Enrique eventually agrees to take a job in Chicago after his job as a waiter is foiled by a jealous coworker who calls immigration on him. He is forced to choose between his family morals and traditions and the financial opportunities that await him as Rosa is struck ill as a result of the rats that attacked her en route to the US. Enrique reunites with his sister at her hospital bed as they discuss their hardships. Rosa explains that there is no place for them in their homeland of Guatemala, no place for them amidst the poverty of Mexico, and no place for them in the “freedom” of the United States. Rosa passes away as a result of her illness, leaving Enrique behind to search for day labor opportunities. The film ends with Enrique’s vision of his sister in Guatemala and his father’s severed head, leaving the audience with uncertainty for his future and longing for his success after all of his trials.
The film uses language and culture to its advantage to bring acknowledgement and acceptance of Rosa and Enrique’s circumstances to an American and British audience. Color and cinematography give El Norte a unique look and cultural aspect, reminiscent of the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and the artwork of Latin American masters. I admire the film’s originality and ability to tell a powerful story without the gimmicks of many modern movies that rely on sex and special effects to carry the action of the film. With strong character development and excellent acting, I found myself rooting for Rosa and Enrique, smiling when they progressed, and shrinking on the inside when they faced new challenges. I could go on and on about this film, but I’ll stop at that. I honestly can’t say enough good things about El Norte. It’s the type of film that might just change your perception on life.