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"When will we find a home?" Rosa asks her brother Enrique at the end of their long journey. Alone in a strange land, they have only each other. The search for roots and the importance of family inform Gregory Nava's and Anna Thomas's lyrical and emotionally powerful El Norte, just as they will the filmmakers' later My Family, which showed at Sundance in 1995. One of the first films to portray faithfully the plight of Central American political refugees, El Norte is a remarkable fusion of documentary realism and visual poetry. When their father is killed and their mother arrested by the military, Rosa and Enrique flee the coffee fields of Guatemala for el norte, a place they know only from pictures in their godmother Josefita's Better Homes and Gardens magazines. Their trip is often harrowing, taking them through the teeming squalor of Tijuana to the anonymous streets of Los Angeles, but there is time for joy and laughter, too. They learn English in a lively night school, and when Rosa is intimidated by the laundry room in the house she is cleaning at her new job, she washes the clothes by hand and spreads them on the lawn to dry as she used to do at home. Thomas's eloquently crafted characters are brought to vibrant life by Zaide Gutierrez's and David Villalpando's remarkable performances, and the authentic music and James Glennon's moody cinematography create an indelible sense of place.
For more about El Norte and the El Norte Blu-ray release, see El Norte Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on December 27, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: David Villalpando, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez, Trinidad Silva, Tony Plana, Larry Cedar
Director: Gregory Nava
» See full cast & crew
El Norte Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, December 27, 2008
Two young Guatemalans enter the United States illegally as they seek to escape an oppressive military regime in Gregory Nava's Oscar-nominated drama "El Norte" (1983). Intoxicatingly poetic and disturbingly realistic, the film dissects illegal immigration without glorifying or condemning those who choose to gamble their lives with it. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) and Enrique (David Villalpando) decide to leave their village in Guatemala and seek a better life up North (hence the title of the film El Norte) when their father is killed, and their mother abducted, by the military. They pack their belongings and head to the mountains. In Tijuana, on the Mexican border, the two are cheated by a local coyote who promises to show them how to get illegally into the US. Shortly after, they are captured by Border Patrol (BP) officials and sent back to Tijuana. The two try once again, this time around crawling through an abandoned sewer pipe, and enter the US without speaking a word of English.
In Los Angeles, Rosa and Enrique get temp jobs and enroll into a public school to learn English. Later on, Rosa becomes a maid while Enrique gets a job as a waiter. Unfortunately, Rosa falls sick and Enrique is left alone struggling to make ends meet.
Directed by Gregory Nava and produced by Anna Thomas, El Norte is a bitterly realistic, yet notably poetic, film about illegal immigration. It tells the story of a brother and sister who leave their home in Guatemala and embark on a treacherous journey to seek a better life in a country they know nothing about.
The film is divided into three parts: "Arturo Xuncax", "El Coyote", and "The North". Each part follows a fragment of Rosa and Enrique's journey as they move closer and closer to their dream destination. Each part is also effectively separated from the other two with an intentional emphasis on specific colors (blues and bright reds for Guatemala, dusty yellow and light brown for Mexico, and navy blue for the US). Specific tunes are also used to further enhance the cultural and emotional shock the main protagonists are faced with as they pass from one country to another (Guatemalan folk, Barber's Adagio for Strings Op. 11, and traditional Mexican music).
In "Arturo Xuncax" Gregory Nava delivers an utterly poetic portrait of a country of harsh contrasts. We see the dreamy hills of Guatemala where the locals are living a simple life filled with simple pleasures. They go to work, converse, and discuss the future. The deceiving harmony of their lives, however, is quickly shattered when armed soldiers enter the story to squash a peasant uprising.
"El Coyote" follows Rosa and Enrique as they enter Mexico. Their naivety and unusual looks are noticed in Tijuana and a local scoundrel takes advantage of their misery. This is also the first time where El Norte introduces the clash-of-cultures theme and goes on to strip immigration from its deceivingly poetic overtones. The story gets even darker when Rosa and Enrique are asked to crawl through a giant sewage pipe that goes under the US-Mexican border.
"The North", the third and final part of El Norte, begins on a positive note, but quickly morphs into a giant nightmare. Gregory Nava delivers a shockingly realistic finale for a story, I am convinced, is painfully familiar to many who have done what Rosa and Enrique are seen doing in El Norte.
Gregory Nava's film will undoubtedly resonate with anyone who has ever thought about illegal immigration. Its narrative is painfully realistic, to the point of resembling a documentary feature, and told with such energy that even the most cold-hearted of viewers will be hard-pressed not to recognize its genuinely authentic tone. In many ways, El Norte is also a deeply spiritual film, not a religious one, exploring the willingness of human beings to sacrifice absolutely everything, even their own lives, in order to realize an elusive, yet powerful, dream. As such, El Norte is arguably the best film ever made about illegal immigration in the Americas.
El Norte Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, and granted a 1080p transfer Gregory Nava's El Norte arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
I was very much looking forward to this disc given the fact that my only exposure to El Norte was via a worn-out VHS tape the film library of a major academic institution had in its collection. The VHS tape was in a terrible condition and, if I recall correctly, the only copy in circulation. So, I was very excited when I found out that Criterion were planning a Blu-ray release of Nava's film. This being said, El Norte certainly looks to have aged quite a bit. The print provided by Criterion reveals some mild contrast fluctuations, color-pulsations, and a generally good level of detail. Furthermore, film grain is intact and I did not detect any DNR alterations either. On the other hand, the actual print is clean - dirt, debris, and damage are not an issue of concern here. As I mentioned earlier, however, I noticed a few interesting contrast fluctuations (mostly during the first twenty scenes, during the village nighttime scenes). I assume that they are, more than likely, embedded into the actual master print. Nevertheless, the transfer looks quite strong and I have absolutely no problem recommending the Blu-ray disc to those of you interested in its content. Furthermore, El Norte certainly looks the best I've seen it look, and I believe that fans of the film will be exceptionally pleased with Criterion's presentation. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc which you will not be able to play on your Region-B PS3 or SA. You will need a Region-Free or Region-A hardware to playback it).
El Norte Blu-ray, Audio Quality
K'iche', Spanish, and English: Uncompressed Monaural audio track is what you will find on this Blu-ray disc. Generally speaking, the audio presentation is on par with the video treatment. The dialog is crystal clear and very easy to follow and I did not detect any pops, cracks, or hissing. The music soundtrack, a colorful collection of tunes by The Folkloristas, Malecio Martinez, Linda O'Brien, Emil Richards (and a short fragment from Barber's Adagio for Strings, Op. 11), is quite effective in enhancing the dramatic journey the two protagonists embark on. Furthermore, the music appears well-blended with the dialog and I did not detect any balance issues to report here either. The audio is also notably crisp, well-rounded, and without any problematic volume fluctuations. Optional English, white, subtitles are provided for the main feature.
El Norte Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
For the Blu-ray release of El Norte Criterion have supplied a nice 12-page booklet containing the following: "Promised Land", an essay by Hector Tobar (author or the novel "The Tattooed Soldier" and the nonfiction book "Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish Speaking United States"), providing a detailed analysis for El Norte as well as an informative summation of its history. Next is "Roger Ebert on El Norte", the Chicago-based critic's original review of the film published in Chicago Sun-Times on December 1983. In addition, there are short notes about the transfer, production credits, special thanks, and acknowledgments.
On the actual Blu-ray disc you will find the following: the original theatrical trailer for El Norte, a gallery of Chiapas location-scouting photographs, Gregory Nava's 1972 award-winning student film titled "The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva", and a video program featuring interviews with Gregory Nava, producer and co-writer Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutierrez and David Villapando, and set designer David Wasco titled "In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of El Norte". In addition, Criterion have also supplied a new audio commentary with Gregory Nava. This being said, I would like to comment on the commentary and the "making of" - while the full-blown commentary focuses primarily on the story and how it resonates with the immigration issues our country is facing, the "making of" is actually a collage of interviews addressing the history of El Norte as well as the message the film carries. Both are exceptionally informative, and I strongly recommend that you take the time and listen to them if you are interested in learning more about immigration in the Americas. Note: English subtitles are provided for the portions of the extras that are spoken in Spanish.
El Norte Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A powerful and exceptionally realistic film, El Norte tells a story that is likely to resonate with a large number of viewers. I personally think that it depicts illegal immigration as it actually happens, and exists, in our country. Some of its mechanics are probably slightly updated but everything else should be as filmed by Gregory Nava. An unforgettable film! The Blu-ray release of El Norte, courtesy of Criterion, is of very good quality and with excellent supplemental materials. I cannot think of a single reason why one should not pick up this disc. Highly Recommended.
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El Norte Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Special Features for El Norte Announced - November 7, 2008
The Criterion Collection has announced the special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'El Norte', which is currently scheduled to hit store shelves on January 20th. Technical specs have yet to be announced, by you can expect to see 1080p video accompanied ...
• Criterion Plans El Norte, Adds Revanche - October 29, 2008
The Criterion Collection has revealed that they will bring the Gregory Nava film 'El Norte' to Blu-ray on January 20th. No technical specs or special features have been announced at this time. Additionally, Criterion Collection in conjunction with their sister ...
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