Picks and Pans Review: El Norte

updated 02/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

As this superb Mexican import begins, a Guatemalan villager has been gunned down by government troops who suspect that he is a revolutionary. His son and daughter, in their late teens, flee to Mexico, knowing their lives are also in danger. But their real goal is "el norte"—the U.S. Their tortuous journey leads them to an abandoned sewer, through which they crawl into California. Once settled in a rundown section of Los Angeles, the young man, played by David Villalpando, finds a job as a bus-boy, and his sister, Zaide Silvia Gutierrez, becomes a domestic. They find that the American Dream, so promising from a distance, can disintegrate. Villalpando is eventually betrayed to the immigration authorities, and Gutierrez comes down with a deadly disease, the result of rat bites in the tunnel. Despite its sobering theme, the film provides some nice flecks of humor. Gutierrez, working for a wealthy Beverly Hills matron, can't figure out an automatic washing machine and ends up doing the laundry by hand, letting it dry on the grass by the pool. Director Gregory Nava, a Mexican-Basque graduate of U.C.L.A.'s film school, co-wrote the script with his wife, Anna Thomas, a cookbook author (The Vegetarian Epicure). Their documentary tone creates a convincing contrast between the lush hills of poverty-ridden Mexico and the squalor of rich Los Angeles. The result is a disturbing movie about hope and disappointment. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.) (R)

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