Plot: What’s it about?
Enrique (David Villalplando) and his sister Rosa (Zaide Silvia Guiterrez) live in poverty in Guatemala, but even that will soon seem tolerable. As if their lives weren’t harsh enough, their father was murdered by local soldiers, their mother was taken prisoner, and Enrique was forced to kill a soldier in order to protect himself. Now the siblings are being hunted down and face certain death, so they decide to make a run out of the country. The plan is to escape Guatemala and head north through Mexico, to finally take refuge in the United States. The promise of a new life is enough to help them endure what is sure to be a dangerous, traumatic journey, but even if they reach the U.S., will that promise be fulfilled?
I have to admit, I hadn’t watched El Norte since I was in college. I thought it was a good movie at the time, but didn’t connect with it like I had expected. As much praise and acclaim as the film has drawn, I felt like I had perhaps missed a crucial part of the equation. So when I sat down with this Blu-ray release, I wondered if the missing pieces would fall into place and sadly, that didn’t happen. In truth, El Norte still doesn’t stand out to me. I appreciate the political message and skillful filmmaking, but I wasn’t moved like others have been. I found the film to be contrived and even a little forced this time around, with more melodrama than I had remembered. I suppose given the film’s reputation, I expected a certain kind of depth and multi-layered texture, neither of which El Norte possesses. Even so, I can’t write off the movie because while I didn’t love it, countless others sing its praises. So if you’re interested, give El Norte a rental.
Video: How does it look?
El Norte is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This looks excellent. Criterion’s digital restoration process has given the print a new lease on life. The print looks clean, with so much debris removed, but not at the expense of clarity, as the image looks natural and not overly processed. A few flaws remain intact, but nothing serious and the inherent grain is also here, which helps with a film-like presence. The image is sharp, with great detail that is better than any other home video release of El Norte I’ve seen, while colors and contrast perform well also. Simply put, another great Criterion treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
An uncompressed mono soundtrack is included and while not memorable, this proves to be a capable presentation. The track is clean and suffers from minimal age related defects, such as hiss or pops. The dialogue transitions between English, Spanish, and K’iche’, but never misses a beat and distortion and harshness never prove to be concerns. The overall presence is about what you’d expect from mono, but as I said, this is a clean, clear presentation. This disc also includes English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
In the Service of Shadows is up first, an almost hour long documentary about the production of El Norte. This is loaded with insight and has a plethora of interviews that fans of the film will appreciate. As informative as it is, the presentation is rather dull, so don’t expect a kinetic showcase, just solid information. The director’s commentary with Gregory Nava is insightful as well, while the inclusion of his student film The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva is most welcome. This disc also includes some still photos, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.