What can we do to open our mind to new perspectives of life? One easy way to do that is to include Latin American movies on our watch list.
From time to time, we should watch a movie that wakes us up. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece or change our lives, and we don’t even have to like it that much. It just has to remind us that there are other ways to tell stories. When we’re too focused on our own lives, our personal goals, and everything that’s directly in front of us, we can forget that there’s a whole world out there, places where things are done differently, but where people share our humanity, our sorrows, joys, and ways to relate to one another. What can we do to open our mind to new perspectives of life? First, we need to make an active effort to look for experiences that would hardly reach us spontaneously. One easy way to do that is to include foreign films on our watch list. Not only can this help you grow as a person, but you’ll also have new slightly obscure film references you can brag about with your film-loving friends. The next incredible Latin American movies are a great way to start.
The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina)
I became obsessed with this film since the first time I watched it. Directed by Juan José Campanella and released in 2009, The Secret in their Eyes is one of those rare movies that have everything: mystery, humor, action, cruelty, tenderness, a seemingly impossible love, and a devastating discovery at the end. The story begins with Benjamín Espósito struggling to write a novel about Liliana Coloto’s murder, an intriguing case that he tried to solve 25 years before, while working as a judiciary employee. As Benjamín tries to come to terms with his past, he realizes that his story, and the consequences of Liliana’s murder, are not over yet.
Silent Light (Mexico)
Carlos Reygadas is one of the most fascinating film directors of our time, and Silent Light (2007) is considered his masterpiece. It won the Jury Prize in the Cannes Film Festival, and its story reflects on the concept of unfaithfulness in a Mennonite community. How does a married man from such a conservative community deal with an affair? How does he choose between his family and his genuine new love? You will immerse yourself in this story thanks to Reygadas’ careful and intense direction.
The Swamp (Argentina)
Lucrecia Martel’s direction will make you feel like an unattended guest in the vicious lives of her characters. A sweaty, mildly suffocating film, The Swamp (2001) tells the story of a formerly rich Argentinian family and their increasingly tense vacation in the rainy northwest. It portrays fragmentary but realistic events and interactions that are simultaneously poignant: boredom, adultery, and classism among characters that you’ll come to hate because they feel too real.
The Maid (Chile)
Comedy-dramas are rarely good because, as you probably know, they’re almost never funny enough or emotional enough. The Maid (2009) is an exception thanks to Catalina Saavedra’s performance as a strangely manipulative maid who desperately tries to maintain her position in the Valdes family's household.
From Afar (Venezuela)
Directed by Lorenzo Vigas, From Afar (2015) was co-written by Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote brilliant movies like 21 Grams and Amores Perros. The film depicts the complex (and violent) relationship between two men from Caracas, which begins after Elder, the young gang member, is hired by Armando, the older man, to visit his apartment and get naked while he masturbates.
Wild Tales (Argentina)
If you want to watch an incredibly exciting film, Wild Tales (2014), directed by Damián Szifron, is your best choice. It will surprise you from the very beginning, and it won’t let you relax until it’s over. The six different stories that compose it are tense, violent, and hilarious.
Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
This mind-bending film was written by Ciro Guerra (who also directed it) and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal. It shows the journey taken by an Amazonian shaman and two foreign scientists who wish to find a sacred plant with healing properties. Since its release in 2015, it has been widely acclaimed for its original way to explore colonialism and mysticism.
Mala Mala (Puerto Rico)
This is the only documentary on the list, and it deserves to be among many great films due its groundbreaking style and themes about the transgender community in Puerto Rico, their political activism, and what they have achieved in the last few years. It was released in 2014, and it was directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles.
This 2014 film, directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, is profoundly beautiful and endearing. It tells the story of a young man from Veracruz who moves to Mexico City to live with his older brother. The film will make you fall in love with the city without idealizing it or omitting its flaws, like racism and classism.
Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico)
Another film directed by Carlos Reygadas is necessary on this list. This one is wildly different from Silent Light, and it’s not the kind of film that everyone loves or understands. It takes place in several places around the world, and it shows eclectic, surreal scenes that will scare you and seduce you at the same time.
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
This movie’s original title is The Frightened Teat, which is a lot more compelling if you ask me. It was directed by Claudia Llosa, and it depicts the real history of sexual violence against Peruvian women. Can trauma be passed on from generation to generation? And what are the consequences of mass rape as a strategy of war? Claudia Llosa skilfully tackles these heavy questions without wincing.
The Club (Chile)
Pablo Larraín, possibly the most interesting Latin American director you’ll find on this list, isn’t afraid of portraying difficult subjects and situations. The Club (2015) tells the story of four Catholic priests that are in exile in a small Chilean town due to moral crimes, like child abuse, that come back to haunt them years later.
What happens when a man asks one of his employees to pretend to be his wife in front of his brother? How are they able to fake such an intimate relationship? This tragicomedy, released in 2004, was directed by Juan Pablo Rabella and Pablo Stoll. It won the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, and its peculiar style will show you what you rarely get through the American film industry.
The Headless Woman (Argentina)
You simply can’t miss Lucrecia Martel’s movies if you’re interested in Latin American cinema. Thanks to The Headless Woman (2008), Martel’s direction has been compared to the work of iconic directors like Hitchcock and Antonioni. This is a film about the protagonist’s disorientation and inability to act normally after she has a car accident. By the end of the film, you will be as perplexed as she is.
City of God (Brazil)
City of God (2002) is probably the most famous film on this list, and for good reasons. It was directed by Fernando Mereilles and Kátia Lund, with stunning and hypnotizing results. From beginning to end, this movie is a thrill. What do you know about organized crime in Rio de Janeiro? Or about the dreams and desires of the people who live under those dangerous circumstances? The contrast between youthful love and violence makes this film an incredible human experience.
Of course, Pablo Larraín’s compelling work has to appear twice on this list. No (2012) is a movie about the power of advertising. It stars Gael García Bernal as René, a man who takes part in one of the most important political events of Chilean history: the 1988 plebiscite where the Chilean people had the chance to decide the future of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
This Ecuadorian thriller, released in 2004, was directed by Sebastián Cordero and produced by Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. It stars John Leguizamo as Manolo Bonilla, a television journalist who gets involved in a dangerous investigation about disturbing criminal activities in rural Ecuador.
7 Boxes (Paraguay)
If Crónicas leaves you wanting more, 7 Boxes is the movie you need to watch right after. Directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schémbori, it follows the chaotic and unexpected story of Víctor, a young man who agrees to carry 7 boxes without knowing their contents. It already sounds like a terrible idea, right?
Our Lady of the Assassins (Colombia)
This beautiful movie is based on the novel written by Fernando Vallejo. It shows the relationship between Fernando, an author who goes back to Medellín after three decades of exile, and Alexis, a young gay man. The most charming aspect of this movie is the dialogue: the combination between the brilliance of Fernando’s memories and observations, and Alexis’ knowledge about the modern violence around Medellín.
Biutiful (2010) is a famously painful movie. It was directed by the well-known director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and it stars Javier Bardem as a troubled man who finds pain and horror everywhere he goes. Basically, it’s an incredibly beautiful (yes, biutiful like its name) film that I do not recommend watching on a day when you’re not feeling particularly great.
After watching these movies, your taste in films will drastically expand. More importantly, you’ll feel more curious about the rest of the Latin American movies that are not included on this list.
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