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  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Spanish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
  • New audio commentary featuring Nava
  • In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of "El Norte": a new video program featuring interviews with Nava, producer and cowriter Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, and set designer David Wasco
  • The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva, the 1972 award-winning student film by Nava
  • Gallery of Chiapas location-scouting photographs
  • Theatrical trailer

El Norte

Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Gregory Nava
Starring: , David Villalpando, , Alicia del Lago, Miguel Gomez Giron, Jose Martin Ruano, Stella Quan, Eraclio Zepeda
1983 | 140 Minutes | Licensor: Independent Productions, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #458
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: January 20, 2009
Review Date: May 30, 2009

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Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa flee persecution at home in Guatemala and journey north, through Mexico and on to the United States, with the dream of starting a new life. It's a story that happens every day, but until Gregory Nava's groundbreaking El Norte (The North), the personal travails of immigrants crossing the border to America had never been shown in the movies with such urgent humanism. A work of social realism imbued with dreamlike imagery, El Norte is a lovingly rendered, heartbreaking story of hope and survival, which critic Roger Ebert called "a Grapes of Wrath for our time."

Forum members rate this film 7.1/10


Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of Gregory Nava’s El Norte is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image is presented in 1080p.

The same hi-def transfer used for their DVD release was also used here, and again, like many other DVD/Blu-ray releases from Criterion they do look similar. Colours are strong, nicely saturated and bright, with natural flesh tones and deep, bold blacks. The print is in amazing shape, with virtually nothing in the way of damage present.

Again, where the Blu-ray beats out the DVD is sharpness and detail, which are both much stronger here. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it’s still actually how amazing the differences are, especially since detail on the DVD was rather good to begin with. I noticed the patterns on some of the outfits presented far more information; you can make out threads and some distinct patterns that blurred on the DVD. Long shots looked sharper, and film grain was more prominent, though not overly heavy. And while I thought some reds could present a couple issues (though they presented more problems on the DVD,) overall the transfer on here is much cleaner, fairly clear of artifacts.

Again, like most other Blu-ray titles from Criterion, their release of El Norte presents a very strong image, keeping a very film like presentation.

(Screen grabs below have been provided by DVD Beaver. Grabs have been downscaled somewhat but should provide an idea of the image quality.)


All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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Criterion’s Blu-ray upgrades from the DVD’s Dolby Digital mono track by presenting a lossless mono track, presenting the film in K’iche, Spanish, and English. I thought the mono track on the DVD was rather good, but there was a noticeable improvement here. It sounds quite a bit sharper and has some nice range to it. Actually quite impressive for a mono track.



Supplements are pretty much the same between the Blu-ray and DVD releases, and for this reason I have actually copied portions from the supplement section of my DVD review here.

First up is an audio commentary by director Gregory Nava. I wasn’t actually looking forward to it as I find most solo commentaries by directors to be uninvolving (not always, but most of the time.) This one was a bit of a surprise and different from other director commentaries. It actually almost comes off as a scholarly track at times (and I swear he’s reading from notes.) He just fires through this track for 140 minutes with very few pauses. He covers everything about this film, from getting the money, scouting locations, shooting it, and even gets into his choices for shots, lighting, editing, and even touches on his techniques. He mentions problems they had making the film (which there were plenty of) and has his fair share of anecdotes and “fun facts”, like how Steven Spielberg called him to ask how he shot the “rat sequence.” He explains his characters’ motivations and the story, and can be guilty of narrating the onscreen action, but his wealth of information more than makes up for it. And yes, he also does touch on some political topics, specifically immigration, but this is kept to a minimum and his primary concern is talking about his film, and talk he does. If you’re only concerned about the making of the film most of the same material is covered in the making-of documentary on the second disc (everything on there is repeated here) but he does get into more detail on certain sequences in the commentary and offers more technical information about his style. Most surprising little tidbit: Not only did INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) agree to participate with the film, they also let the filmmakers use their vehicles and offices in the film for free.

The remaining supplements are found under the “Supplements” section of the flyout menu.

A 58-minute documentary is the big feature next to the commentary. Entitled In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of “El Norte”, it features director Nava, producer/co-writer Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, and set designer David Wasco. It has been divided into 9-chapters and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. Some of the same material in the commentary is presented here, though you get other perspectives from the other participants. It covers the early stages of the production including looking for funding and then finding the actors, and moves all the way through filming right to its rather successful theatrical release. Again we learn about the problems they had with filming, which included almost getting killed by locals and even having some of the film held for ransom (which they paid, but were actually reimbursed for it by their insurance.) The actors also discuss their fear of filming in the United States, since they were there on a tourist visa, and also mention problems they had when crossing back into the States to attend a film festival where the film was showing. It’s all talking-heads, with some clips and photos thrown in for good measure, but it’s still an informative making-of.

The next feature, Scouting in Chiapas is a small photo gallery presenting scouting photos for the locations of the village in the film. It’s a standard photo gallery where you use the arrows on your remote to navigate through them.

Next is a short student film made by Nava in 1972 called The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva. It share similarities with El Norte in that it covers a journey as it follows its title character who travels to a “friend’s” house after being forced to flee his home due to political tensions. It runs 30-minutes and was filmed in black-and-white. It’s almost completely silent other than some Spanish at the beginning and the occasional bit of English voice over. While it has a few problems, it’s actually quite impressive for a student film and Nava shows he has a good handle on his craft.

The supplements then concludes with a re-release trailer for the film.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray release (and all Blu-ray titles from Criterion) is the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu, or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button. This is pretty common on Blu-ray (also common on HD DVD) so it’s nothing new, but a nice presentation still.

And finally we get a 14-page booklet with an essay by Hector Tobar and a copy of Roger Ebert’s original review for the film.

Disappointingly one feature looks to have been dropped for this release. The original press release listed this feature: “Wall of Silence, a new short documentary by Nava and Barbara Martinez Jitner, concerning the building of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border”. I was actually looking forward to this one but alas it doesn’t look to be here. I am unsure why it wasn’t included.

Despite the fact that the features we do get are pretty good I was still slightly letdown, probably because of the missing feature, which would have given a look at the subject matter the film examines. But at the very least we still get a very solid look at the making of the film and its importance in independent filmmaking.



The DVD was strong, and while I recommended it I have to admit in my stomach I was a little disappointed that for a two disc set it felt pretty slim. Surprisingly this feels like less of an issue with the Blu-ray. The supplements are thankfully at least all good and worth looking through, but the strong seller here is the transfer, which is impressive and shows Criterion really has the whole hi-def thing down, and are thankfully sticking to their guns of presenting a very film lime experience. A high recommendation.

View packaging for this Blu-ray


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