El Norte (1983)

R  |   |  Adventure, Drama, Thriller  |  27 January 1984 (USA)
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.8/10 from 3,639 users   Metascore: 67/100
Reviews: 46 user | 25 critic | 5 from Metacritic.com

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



Watch Trailer
0Check in

Watch Now

From $2.99 on Amazon Video

Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Alambrista! (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

After the birth of his first child, Roberto, a young Mexican man slips across the border into the United States. Seeking work to support his family back home, he finds that working hard is not enough.

Director: Robert M. Young
Stars: Domingo Ambriz, Trinidad Silva, Linda Gillen
Drama | Romance | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Shortly after WWII an American soldier (Norman) and a Polish refugee (Emilia) fall in deep love. Eventually he will return to USA and both expect that she will soon follow him. Emilia's ... See full summary »

Director: Krzysztof Zanussi
Stars: Maja Komorowska, Scott Wilson, Hanna Skarzanka
Drama | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

After the end of the Dirty War, a high school teacher sets out to find out who the mother of her adopted daughter is.

Director: Luis Puenzo
Stars: Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio, Chunchuna Villafañe
L'argent (1983)
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A forged 500-franc note is cynically passed from person to person and shop to shop, until it falls into the hands of a genuine innocent who doesn't see it for what it is - which will have ... See full summary »

Director: Robert Bresson
Stars: Christian Patey, Sylvie Van den Elsen, Michel Briguet
The Blue Kite (1993)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

On Dry Well Lane in Beijing in 1953, Chen Shujuan and Lin Shaolong marry. A year later their son, nicknamed Tietou (Iron Head), is born. The Party is everywhere: Mao's photograph, ... See full summary »

Director: Zhuangzhuang Tian
Stars: Tian Yi, Wenyao Zhang, Xiaoman Chen
Certificate: Passed Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

An elderly couple are forced to separate when they lose their house and none of their five children will take both parents in.

Director: Leo McCarey
Stars: Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

The fire department in a small town is having a big party when the ex-boss of the department celebrates his 86th birthday. The whole town is invited but things don't go as planned. Someone ... See full summary »

Director: Milos Forman
Stars: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sebánek, Josef Valnoha
Moolaadé (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

When a woman shelters a group of girls from suffering female genital mutilation, she starts a conflict that tears her village apart.

Director: Ousmane Sembene
Stars: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Hélène Diarra, Salimata Traoré
Pale Flower (1964)
Crime | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A gangster gets released from prison and has to cope with the recent shifts of power between the gangs, while taking care of a thrill-seeking young woman, who got in bad company while gambling.

Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Stars: Ryô Ikebe, Mariko Kaga, Takashi Fujiki
My Family (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

This epic film traces over three generations an immigrant family's trials, tribulations, tragedies and triumphs. Jose and Maria, the first generation, come to Los Angeles, meet, marry, face... See full summary »

Director: Gregory Nava
Stars: Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Edward James Olmos
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.6/10 X  
Director: Gregory Nava
Stars: William Bryan, Michael St. John, Richard Harding Gardner
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.7/10 X  

A modernized version of the story which inspired Verdi's opera, "La Forza del Destino".

Director: Gregory Nava
Stars: William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Melissa Leo


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


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


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


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






| |

Release Date:

27 January 1984 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Au nord le paradis  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


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 »


When Enrique sees that Rosa has died, for a couple seconds we still see her breathing. See more »


Border patrol officer 1: [to Enrique and Rosa in Spanish] Do you know how to read and write?
Rosa Xuncax: [to Enrique in Mayan] Why does he want to know that?
Enrique Xuncax: [to Rosa in Mayan] I don't know, but I think it's a trick. We'd better lie.
Border patrol officer 2: What are they saying?
Border patrol officer 1: I don't know. They're not speaking Spanish. They must be speaking some kind of Indian language.
Border patrol officer 2: Well, what the fuck good are you?
Enrique Xuncax: [to the officer in Spanish] No, we can't read or write.
Border patrol officer 1: They don't know how to read and write.
Border patrol officer 2: Well, that's some great system you got there.
Border patrol officer 1: Okay.
See more »


Prelude to "La Traviata"
Written Giuseppe Verdi
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Journey through the Americas
9 April 2004 | by (Corpus Christi TX) – See all my reviews

Like Ruben Martinez's recent nonfiction work on Latino emigrants, "Crossing Over," Gregory Nava's film, "El Norte," begins with a re-working of the Passion Play--only this time the Christ figure is Arturo Xuncax, a Guatemalan Indian and guerilla leader, who's betrayed to the landowner/elites by one of his own followers. As a result, Xuncax and his "disciples" are killed in a bloody nocturnal raid staged by the elites' enforcers--members of the Guatemalan military--and Arturo's severed head is suspended by rope from a tree limb to serve as a warning to others who may conspire against the Oppressor.

Viewers are forgiven, therefore, if they expect a story of political martyrdom and vengeance, since it is Arturo's son, Enrique, who takes up the machete that his murdered father (a "Man of Peace") refused to bring along with him to his fate. Instead, Enrique is advised by a friend to strike out to "el Norte." And since the military has vowed to de- populate Arturo's village, this would appear to be sound advice.

Thus begins one of the best "journey" films ever made. Enrique and his sister, Rosa (presumably, both are still in their teens), make the long trek from their once-idyllic Central American mountain village to what they mistakenly believe will be a comfortable, material existence in California, US of A.

While the Guatemalan scenes in "El Norte" are dark, foggy, murky, and formally paced, the second section of the film (subtitled "El Coyote") begins with a blast of mariachi music and we see the pair of young travelers on a bright, sunlit, modern Mexican highway. Most of this section deals with Rosa and Enrique's efforts to cross the Mexi-Cali border, yet this portion also gives the director a chance to delineate the personalities of his hero and heroine.

Enrique is characterized as an idealist, a dreamer, eternally kind at heart to everyone. No less kinder is Rosa. But as Enrique explains to a retired smuggler, "I think she is stronger than the two of us put together." He's right. Rosa possesses a harder edge than Enrique--an inner strength, in fact, that makes her the emotional and spiritual center of the film. On a bus ride through the Mexican countryside, she refuses to close the window next to her seat, despite the protests of a man sitting behind her; she refuses to be prevented from embracing and observing life as it truly is. Rosa is a realist. While in Tijuana, she explains to Enrique that the sale or pawning of their mother's jewelry is the only practical way they can finance their crossing over to America. Enrique, ever the sentimentalist, objects. But Rosa insists; and in the end, she wins this minor argument.

Brother and sister do manage to make it across the borderline--but at a terrible price that doesn't become evident until the film's conclusion.

"El Norte" was made on a shoestring; but Nava's direction is clever, sometimes in a style reminiscent of late-50's French New Wave, but more often as naturalistic as an Upton Sinclair novel. Indeed, a scene showing Enrique flexing his muscles while begging for work with a construction crew seems an obvious reference to Sinclair's "The Jungle."

The film is very well-cast, every scene directed economically but effectively. There is no waste-motion in this movie. Its rhythm is lyrical without being needlessly reflective. The acting is first-rate, especially the performances of two of the minor players: Lupe Ontiveros (as Nacha, Rosa's friend in Los Angeles) and Trinidad Silva (as Monte, the cynical, opportunistic baseball fanatic).

9 of 10 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
DVD of El Norte coming Elnortefan
Meaning of the final scene? ladynata
Crossing the border-who helps them?? redvespagirl
When... when will it hit DVD? paulvinny
Where to buy? cody_gaffney
those two old ladies gman93189
Discuss El Norte (1983) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: