FILMS THAT ENJOY a theatrical rerelease are generally more of the epic/blockbuster variety, so it's a welcome change of pace to see Gregory Nava's 1983 El Norte gracing the big screen again. This story of teen siblings who flee war-torn Guatemala for the US feels as timely as ever, with only the '80s LA fashions indicating its age. Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zaide Silvia Guti鲲ez) escape the Guatemalan highlands after their father is murdered for trying to organize the indigenous peasant workers and their family is taken captive by the army. The hopeful pair makes the long, difficult journey to "el Norte," stopping in Tijuana where they're preyed upon by "coyotes" (border runners) and the American border patrol alike. They finally arrive in the States after crawling through a harrowing, rat-infested sewer pipe, but their troubles are far from over. As illegal immigrants, they can only join the underground network of cheap day labor. Their eagerness, trusting natures, and dedicated work ethic earn them some success, but they're soon faced with the unavoidable complications of their citizenship status—and more tragic events that bring the film to a bittersweet end.
directed by Gregory Nava
with Zaide Silvia Guti鲲ez and David Villalpando
runs May 12-18 at Varsity
El Norte received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 1985—the first American indie film to be so honored. (Cowriter Nava later went on to direct Mi Familia and Selena.) Its continued appeal speaks to the script's artful balance between the personal and the political, between broader issues of Latin American immigration and the simple story of two people just trying to make it in this world. With its near-documentary look and lead performances that emotionally expand Enrique and Rosa's day-to-day struggles into real drama, El Norte is both consciously affecting and true to the heart.