Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 34: El Norte

34. El Norte (1983)
Drama, Adventure, 141 minutes, Spanish, Maya and English Language
Directed by Gregory Nava
Starring David Villalpando and Zaide Silvia Gutierrez

It's rare for a foreign language film to receive any Oscar nominations outside of Best Foreign Film, but El Norte was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The Story is powerful and sometimes hard to watch. It tells the tale of a Guatemalan brother and sister who are in danger of being killed by their own military every day. All they want to do is live.

This is one type of film I like to watch because it gives me a different perspective on life. I am British and I live in Canada. I have never been particularly poor and have certainly never been homeless or in danger of being murdered. Many of my friends are American and have a similar lifestyle to mine. It's very easy to complain about illegal immigration. I have been going through that process myself and will finally be sworn in as a Canadian eight days from now. But I have money and the opportunity to qualify legally by working and going to college to obtain the required points. Imagine for a moment that you have almost no money and cannot legally enter another country. What would you do? What if your own life was in danger on a daily basis?

This is the situation that Enrique (Villalpando) and Rosa (Gutierrez) find themselves in after their parents are murdered. They take what money they have and decide to try to escape to el norte (the north). They plan to cross the border from Guatemala into Mexico and then on to the United States. Yes, it's illegal, but these are not bad people. They are young siblings simply trying to find a way to survive. They are not afraid to work and pay their way, but they need the opportunity.

El Norte is told in three parts. Arturo Xuncax is set in Guatemala and shows how they lived and how their father was murdered. El Coyote details the Mexican segment of their journey, showing how they were led to the US border in San Diego. The North shows what happens once they arrive in California.

We see immigration from another point of view. It's a tough life, with low wages, because all of the work is illegal and they are continually exploited. The economy depends on the cheap labor in some ways. Enrique and Rosa go to language classes to learn English and survive to the best of their ability. They are constantly in fear of being exposed as illegal immigrants.

The story is an interesting look at life through the eyes of two young illegals. I keep wondering what choices I would make in that situation. Is it really a crime to want to work and live? You might find yourself hoping they escape the immigration officers, or you might think that they deserve any punishment that they get. But whatever side you are on, it's hard to deny that this film makes you think in a different way, and that's healthy.

If you like El Norte:

Another movie that shows the struggle to survive is Maria Full of Grace. It tells the story of a young Columbian girl who becomes a drug mule in order to make money to support her family. She has to fly to New York, make her way through customs, and deliver the drugs to her contact. It's a dangerous business.

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