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Posted by martinteller on August 25, 2012

Roberto (Domingo Abriz) is a young man in Mexico with a wife and newborn child to support.  He ventures off to California for a six-month trip to earn money as a fruit picker.  Along the way, he’ll make a friend and lose that friend, be exploited and ripped off, experience a strange culture, struggle with the language, have an affair, and witness death… a death with a particular significance.

I recently posted my top 100, and on that list is El Norte.  It’s been a favorite of mine for roughly 25 years, the first foreign film (or foreign language film, to be precise) that I came to love.  As it is another movie about the illegal alien experience (although Gautemalan, not Mexican) I can’t help comparing them, and being a little defensive about it.  Alambrista! gets credit for being first.  Director Robert M. Young also won the first Camera d’Or at Cannes, awarded to first-time filmmakers.  Some people claim it to be the first American movie that truly presents the illegal immigrant’s perspective.  Maybe, maybe not.  Border Incident was 1949, but that’s not really the same kind of film.

Young does a fairly good job in exploring Roberto’s plight with sensitivity and honest insight.  His struggles are sympathetic, and Abriz’s performance is fine.  Not great, but fine.  At times Roberto seems to be a bit of a blank slate, and we don’t understand what motivates him to do certain things.  The film also seems to be marking off a certain checklist of scenarios it needs to cover, although perhaps you could level the same complaint at El Norte.

The film has a documentary-ish style that gives it a neorealist edge.  This is undercut by some of the scoring choices, however.  It opens with an absolutely lovely melody on acoustic guitar, but in other places the music is pretty goofy and jarring.

Ultimately, I just didn’t connect with Roberto as much as Rosa and Enrique from El Norte.  The film strings its scenes together nicely and presents a sufficiently compelling narrative, but it lacked the magic spark to truly draw me in.  But some moments are quite special or interesting, especially those involving Trinidad Silva… who also, it so happens, is quite memorable in El Norte (and Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF).  At the very least, it’s worth watching.  Rating: Good (75)


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