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Peasants escaping mindless labor and a murderous Guatemalan government head to America in hopes for something better.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Ernesto Gómez Cruz ...
Arturo
...
Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez ...
Rosa
Alicia del Lago ...
Lupe
...
Informer
Jose Martin Ruano ...
Foreman
Stella Quan ...
Josefita
Heraclio Zepeda ...
Pedro (as Eraclio Zapeda)
Emilio Gomez Ozuna ...
Luis
Daniel Lemus Valenzuela ...
Encarnacion
Rodrigo Puebla ...
El Puma the Soldier
Yosahandi Navarrete Quan ...
Josefita's Daughter
Rodolfo De Alexandre ...
Ramon
Emilio Del Haro ...
Truck Driver
Jorge Moreno ...
Old Man on Bus
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Storyline

Mayan Indian peasants, tired of being thought of as nothing more than "brazos fuertes" ("strong arms", i.e., manual laborers) and organizing in an effort to improve their lot in life, are discovered by the Guatemalan army. After the army destroys their village and family, a brother and sister, teenagers who just barely escaped the massacre, decide they must flee to "El Norte" ("the North", i.e., the USA). After receiving clandestine help from friends and humorous advice from a veteran immigrant on strategies for traveling through Mexico, they make their way by truck, bus and other means to Los Angeles, where they try to make a new life as young, and undocumented immigrants. Written by Ed Cannon <ecannon@mail.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The magical film that reveals the world between the dream and the reality


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Release Date:

27 January 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Au nord le paradis  »

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was originally shot for TV to premiere on PBS in 1983. But after an overwhelmingly positive reception at the Telluride Film Festival, the producers of American Playhouse decided to give the film a theatrical release and delayed the PBS TV-premiere for two years. See more »

Goofs

The plane that taxis up to the airport building is a DC-10, but the plane seen lifting off towards Chicago is a 747. See more »

Quotes

Enrique's friend: You have to learn to talk like a Mexican. Tell me it's a hot day.
Enrique Xuncax: It's a hot day.
Enrique's friend: No! You won't make it two miles past the border. "It's a fucking hot day." Mexicans are always saying fuck. Fuck this, fuck that. Now try it again.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) See more »

Soundtracks

Emperor Waltz
Written by Johann Strauss
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User Reviews

 
Faithfully mirrors the fear and uncertainty of illegal immigrants
9 August 2004 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

In the 1980s, military repression and civil warfare intensified in both Guatemala and El Salvador, resulting in massacres, forced displacement, and political assassinations. Thousands left Central America to come to America, most of them illegally. Those who entered the U.S. filed for political asylum but despite the reports of murders and disappearances, barely three percent of applicants received asylum. Today, approximately half of Salvadorans and Guatemalans living in the U.S. have less than an eighth grade education and most work long hours in jobs on the low end of the pay scale and their situation makes it nearly impossible to advance or make long term plans.

Gregory Nava's 1983 Indie film El Norte describes the plight of two young Guatemalans, Enrique (David Villalpando) and his sister Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) who face reprisals from the military after participating in a protest meeting and undertake a hazardous journey to "the north" to find a better life. The film is divided into three parts: "Arturo Xuncax", describing the circumstances that caused the family to leave Guatemala "El Coyote", detailing their hazardous journey to reach the U.S., and "El Norte", telling the story of their life in Los Angeles. While El Norte does have a strong political message, the core of the film is the relationship between Enrique and Rosa.

The hardships of the journey are told in graphic detail, especially the last test of crossing the border by crawling on their hands and knees through an abandoned sewer line populated by hordes of rats. Things seem to be bright, however, when they arrive in Los Angeles. He becomes a busboy in an upscale restaurant, she finds work as a maid in Beverly Hills, and both try to learn English in their free time. They soon find, however, that life in the U.S. is not all that it appears and their situation unravels when Enrique is reported to INS officials by a jealous employee. El Norte wears its heart on its sleeve and the film tends toward the melodramatic, but it faithfully mirrors the fear and uncertainty that illegal immigrants face each day and I can forgive its flaws and applaud the loving bond between brother and sister and the strength it produces in their lives.


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