Beware La Migra

American audiences have a strange habit of picking the flavor of the year in Mexican film. A few years ago, the trend seemed to be magical realism, but now the current has moved toward realistic depictions of immigrants attempting to cross the border. It would be easy to dismiss Northless (Norteado) as just another film of this type. Not only is the bulk of the plot about this subject, but also it was released the same year as the highly touted and celebrated Sin Nombre. Yet while Cary Fukunaga’s kinetic and wonderful film focused on the journey of Guatemalan immigrants riding atop freight trains through Mexico, Northless aims to give us a more realistic and Mexican depiction. It’s filled with scenes of silence around dinner tables and the drudgery of daily work. Andres (Harold Torres), a migrant from Oaxaca, fails to cross into the States after his coyote deserts him overnight near the California border. Marooned at the immigration office in Tijuana, he finds work with Ela (Alicia Laguna) and Cata (Sonia Couoh). Both find comfort in Andres and try to persuade him to stay in Mexico by taking him on dates and divulging their deepest secrets. He nevertheless attempts to cross several times, culminating in an extremely clever and seemingly absurd plot twist. This is a movie of silences and wide-open spaces, shot beautifully by cinematographer Alejandro Cantú. It’s neither exploitative, documentarian, nor magical — more James Joyce to Sin Nombre’s T. S. Eliot. It eschews the fantastic and unrealistic in favor of the realistic and quotidian, right down to the portraits of George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger that beam judgment upon Andres each time he is apprehended by la migra.
Sun., May 16, 9:30 p.m., 2010


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