Guillermo del Toro, currently one of the most important filmmakers, is known for his understanding and knowledge of film history. These are the most important movies from Mexican cinema every film buff has to watch.
We can safely say that the best filmmakers today are Mexican; there’s no denying it. You just have to take a look at the past seven years at the Oscars to see how Mexican filmmakers have been on an amazing winning streak. With Alfonso Cuarón winning his second Oscar for the highly-acclaimed (and totally ripped off) Roma, continuing Mexico’s dominance in the industry right now, we can’t help but wonder why such a great film tradition hadn't gotten this attention before.
Mexico’s film history is incredibly rich: it was once the top producer of content in the world. The themes it explores, as universal as they get, also have a unique signature style coming from an extremely abundant culture capable of moving all audiences. Two-time Academy Award winner and my all-time favorite filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro is familiar with the importance of Mexican cinematography in film history, and with that in mind, he decided to organize a special festival to show the world some hidden masterpieces that show why Mexican filmmakers are crushing it.
In Sui generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema, Del Toro makes a selection of 23 films that weren’t that popular at the time but had a major impact in his career and “the current generation of filmmakers working today in Mexico.” In addition, as he stated in a press release, these movies reflect “the depth and the richness of my country’s cinema.” Now, watching all 23 films can be a bit overwhelming (though you should!), so we've selected the 10 absolute must-watches on the list for you.
La mujer del puerto (Woman of the Port)
Dir. Arcady Boytler, 1934
Based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel, Le port, the movie tells the story of a young woman who, after her father’s death and a terrible heartbreak, decides to leave her town to become a prostitute at the port.
El Compadre Mendoza
Dir. Fernando de Fuentes, 1933
Set in the times of the Mexican Revolution, the film tells the story of Rosalío Mendoza, a wealthy landowner who decides to keep good relations with both sides of the revolutionary conflict. His greed and wish to make the most of the situation, instead of making a moral choice, ends up threatening all he’s built.
Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned)
Dir. Luis Buñuel, 1950
Buñuel is perhaps one of the best filmmakers in history, and a movie like Los Olvidados is the best example of it. Made during his Mexican period, it’s a heartbreaking neo-realist portrait (with some of his characteristic surreal moments) of the class division in Mexico City. The film was named Memory of the World by UNESCO.
El esqueleto de la señora Morales (The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales)
Dir. Rogelio A. González, 1960
A young taxidermist who is madly in love with his wife starts living a nightmare after she becomes a religious fanatic who can’t stand him and what he does for a living. It all gets downright creepy when Pablo comes up with a plan to commit the perfect crime using his talents. A movie considered one of the best films of the Golden Age and all times.
Los hermanos del hierro (My Son, the Hero)
Dir. Ismael Rodríguez, 1961
Called “the most perfect movie in Mexican Cinema” by Jorge Ayala Blanco (one of the most important Mexican film critics), this classic western explores the origins of human violence in a society. It tells the story of a set of brothers who decide to carry out a wave of murders after swearing to avenge the assassination of their father.
El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel)
Dir. Luis Buñuel, 1966
Going back to the master of surrealism, we have what might be one of the strangest stories ever told in cinema. A group of rich people attends a fancy party. After the servants leave the house, something happens in the space that impedes everyone else from leaving. As time passes, the food and drinks start to run out, and chaos prevails.
El Grito, México 1968
Dir. Leobardo López Arretche, 1968
This is one of the most important documentaries about the student massacre in hands of the government that occurred in Mexico in 1968. Created by students from CUEC (the most prestigious film school in Mexico) who decided to document all the protests and conflicts prior to and after the massacre on October 2nd.
Dir. María Novaro, 1991
Challenging the gender dynamics that had reigned in Mexican cinema for decades, Danzón focuses on female strength and the path of self-discovery from the turning point of their empowerment. It tells the story of Julia, a woman who loves her job, her family, and danzón, a music and dancing style popular in Latin America. It all will change and take her into an important journey when her dancing partner disappears.
Sólo con tu pareja (Love in the Time of Hysteria)
Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 1991
As Cuarón’s debut film, Solo con tu pareja is a comedy of errors in which the absurd reigns. Tomás Tomás is a womanizer confident he will get away with his affairs without consequences. It all will get messy after meeting Silvia Silvia, a nurse who falls for him and a flight attendant. With AIDS and suicide as central themes, we can say Cuarón started his career in the film industry on the right foot.
Ángel de fuego (Angel of Fire)
Dir. Dana Rotberg, 1992
A young fire breather at a decrepit circus in the outskirts of Mexico City finds herself pregnant with her father’s child, a man who’s abused her but she falls in love with. After refusing to get rid of the child, she’s kicked out the circus. Alone and with no one to rely on, she finds a woman who’s a leader of a sect-like group that promises rendition, but she only finds more abuse and solitude.
As Guillermo del Toro mentioned in his statement about Sui generis, “many of the films we present are by filmmakers who are unafraid to play with themes, with social mores, with genre-bending stories. It speaks to a diversity and idiosyncrasy that is uniquely Mexican.” And he’s absolutely right, these films explored themes no one dared to delve into at the time and, thus, weren’t as popular nor mainstream in a society in love with cheesy dramas and feel-good “moralistic” messages. However, it’s actually their bravery and the impeccable artistry with which they were crafted, what makes them some of the best movies ever made.
Sui generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema will start on February 28th in Toronto. However, you can easily find all of these films on the internet.
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