A strikingly made and dramatically compelling film, Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983) could have been little more than a straightforward drama about two young people — Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez) — making their way to the presumed “good life” in the United States. Put in simple terms, that’s essentially what this is. But the film strives to be more than that. The story — though occasionally on the melodramatic and contrived side — is carefully structured so that the pair’s experiences in America are ultimately a kind of replay of their family’s experiences in Guatemala, suggesting that the lot of the lower class is a universal one. But more than this, the film extends and enhances the story by the inclusion of incredibly arresting dream and fantasy sequences — some of which indicate the inevitable tragic fate of one of the characters. (This is frequently referred to as “magical realism,” but all but one fleeting moment is clearly presented as fantasy. Of course, people — especially, if they’re trying to make a film sound more literary — tend to drop this term in a fairly haphazard manner.) Additionally, the film’s soundtrack is generally first-rate. The use of an excerpt from Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (meant to evoke a child’s view of heaven) when the pair see their first American city (San Diego) laid out before them at night is perfect. All in all, a moving, compelling film that ought to be better known than it has come to be.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present El Norte Friday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com