El Norte is Spanish for “The North”, and in Gregory Nava’s film it symbolizes the United States, the land of freedom and prosperity that is located… well, to the north. It is a fairly moving and effective film, about the journey two Guatemalan young adults make to escape being killed in their native country, and I probably would’ve enjoyed it a little more if I hadn’t seen so many of these kind of films already. From Walkabout to Rabbit-Proof Fence, to everything in between, this is not a new concept for a film to explore; that of a group or pair of individuals making a symbolic trek of some kind across a stretch of landscape. So what does El Norte have that the others don’t? Honestly, not a whole lot, and there were more than a few times during my watching this that I caught myself wondering why the list was forcing me to watch the same story over and over again.
Enrique and Rosa are a brother and sister living with their family in Guatemala; their father is currently involved in a dispute about forming a union for the local workers, and this dispute eventually ends in him being killed, and their mother taken by the soldiers. Fearful for their own lives, the siblings decide to emigrate illegally through Mexico into “the North”, to try and start new lives away from their homeland. The film is divided into three parts, each set in the three countries the siblings go through on their journey, and it is largely the third part that does provide a bit of a distinction between El Norte and other films like it; rather than end the film on their successfully making it to America, the film continues to detail their new lives in America, which are quite a bit less than the opportunistic or idealistic views they’ve had up to that point, and that may very well be the point of the film. I won’t get into the ending too much, but it still deserves a mention for how much of a downer it is, especially if you look up the symbolism behind the last shots and take that to heart when seeing it for yourself. I will, however, mention the cinematography, which was quite good, especially when in the siblings’ native Guatemala. The score was also especially notable, not really for being particularly amazing, but for being particularly recognizable; damn near anyone that is familiar with film scores will know the score to El Norte upon hearing it, whether they know the film it’s from or not.
This was a pretty decent film, if a little overly manipulative at times, but it was too much of what I had already seen for me to give it a good solid mark. In all fairness, this shouldn’t really be against the film itself for not being the first of its kind that I’ve seen, but that’s still the way it ended up; looking over my reviews of the other kinds of film that El Norte resembles, I ended up giving this the same rating as those anyway, so there really wasn’t any harm done. Unless you’re a list completionist, you might want to merely pick one of these “physical/symbolic journey” films to see, and really, if you end up picking El Norte, I don’t think you’ll be all that disappointed. But neither would I advocate you pick this one over any of the others.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10