Monday, August 30, 2010

El Norte

I just saw a really great movie about Guatemala called “El Norte” – I sort of wish there was some sort of neutral Facebook application that you could use to flag books or movies, something providing an even-handed yet brief synopsis….. I guess I’m just going to try linking to the Wikipedia page…

anyway, it was a great movie, referencing the following themes:

- The Guatemalan civil war (which ended in 1996 after lasting more than 30 years, army-guerilla skirmishes and the atrocity of “desaparecidos”, people disappeared by the government…
- The dreams and perils of crossing the “frontera” (border) to “el norte”
- Appearance, reality and disillusionment re: working in the U.S.

It was pretty interesting. The Guatemalan scenes echoed my surroundings, indigenous languages punctuating the Spanish around us, strong religious imagery, mist and mountains, rural towns – the details seemed pretty realistic (although men don’t wear traditional clothing anymore, just the women)…..

I should note that the movie was especially striking because we finished it and walked out into the streets of Antigua, which is a remarkable juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Antigua is a gorgeous example of well-preserved colonial architecture that happens to be surrounded by three volcanoes (one is still active).

Yes, it makes for great pictures.

Yet because so many tourists visit, the place oozes money, and hordes of people try to get involved in the local economy. So you end up with street scenes of Guatemalans hawkingpolished magnets (“they’re volcanic rocks!”, he assured me) guides chasing after gringos to offer tours, children bellowing out prices for cheap clothing in the market…. Basically, our post-movie walk towards the bus station was a sobering reminder that the difficulties we’d seen onscreen weren’t so far from reality, wherein most Guatemalans eek out a living in their own country. Meanwhile, it’s hard not to think of the tourists that stroll about Antigua, casually deciding if and where and in what manner they’ll spend their wealth, admiring the picturesque plazas, buildings and cobblestones of a pretty little town that – don’t forget – is subtle (or not-so-subtle) evidence of how Spain came tocolonize the country and marginalize its citizens a few centuries back. Ahh, irony.

Anyway, the movie was worth watching – feel free to check it out if you can get your hands on a copy – the director is Gregory Nava.


  1. El Norte! I love that movie. It was a mainstay in every Spanish class I took throughout high school. I'm not sure why anyone thought that showing us a movie with English subtitles would help us learn Spanish, but hey, it did teach us something—if not about how to speak better.

    Love your description of walking through Antigua post-movie. Reminds me of walking through Old Havana after watching a Cuban movie about hopes and dreams in Havana.

    Keep the posts coming!


  2. Yeah, really powerful movie....the juxtaposition of real life and a "story" was especially powerful, as you can imagine....thg