17 gateway films from contemporary Latin filmmakers.
ARGENTINA / COLOMBIA / MEXICO
Each film listed here is distinctive to its director’s own style, whilst also making an invaluable contribution to its home country’s cinematic identity. As such, these are excellent entry points into some of the most original, energetic, poetic filmmaking in the world from the three countries with, arguably, the most consistently exciting output of Latin cinema for over fifteen years.
Like the Middle East, Latin America is blessed with some of the most talented filmmakers in the world, who frequently walk the line between cinematic drama and genre storytelling to strengthen the region’s cinema. Don’t be put off by subtitles; don’t shy away from the vastness of Latin culture; these are films that have the power to illuminate a sometimes hidden continent.
Colombian cinema, in particular, has raced up the track in the last six years. Burning Blue, a production company based in the capitol city of Bogotá, has had its hand in many of the most acclaimed Colombian films of the last six years, including Cannes contenders like ‘La Sirga’ and ‘La Tierra y La Sombra’, winner of the Camera d’Or at the 65th Cannes Festival.
Another major victory for Colombia at Cannes in 2015 was the third feature from Ciro Guerra, ‘El Abrazo de la Serpiente’. (read my full review here: http://filmsofeverycolour.com/blog-native/embrace-of-the-serpent )
Guerra’s previous film, ‘Los Viajes del Viento’ (also a Burning Blue production) invites comparisons with the likes of Werner Herzog and even Sam Peckinpah, whilst proclaiming its own distinctive identity in a loud, Paisano accent, shot through with the cultural history of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alvaro Mutis and then reaching even further back, to the era of Spanish colonialism and, eventually, into the shadows of Colombia’s ancient civilisations.
It should come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with Argentine cinema that Ricardo Darín pops up in more than one or two films on this list. For those unfamiliar with Argentina’s most bankable star, he is the compact, all-in-one equivalent to Tom Hanks, Daniel Day Lewis, George Clooney, Tony Leung and Daniel Auteuil. He has 24 carat charisma and, like Daniel Day Lewis, a near unimpeachable track record of excellent films. Darín’s filmography alone would make for a fine introduction to Argentina’s formidable film industry (certainly the largest and healthiest in Latin America) but it has not yet intersected with the work of two of Argentina’s finest auteurs: Lucrecia Martel and Carlos Sorín.
Martel’s films have as much in common with the films of Lynne Ramsay and Jonathan Glazer and the paintings of Edward Hopper as they do with her Latin contemporaries and Martel is already established in the critical community as a maker of exciting, mysterious, cutting-edge cinema.
On the lighter side are the works of Carlos Sorín, who transitioned from a career directing commercials to feature filmmaking after he shot a telephone company commercial in Patagonia and discovered a delightful wealth of local colour and relatable stories within his non-professional cast for the commercial. Sorín’s wry, observational comedies compliment the matter-of-fact but absurdist tone common among many Middle Eastern and Eastern European comedies but stand-out as distinctly Patagonian in their rhythm and delivery.
The three Mexican entries here represent the edge that Latin cinema has on the current genre renaissance that is happening all over the world of indie film. Dealing with immediate, far-reaching, real-world crises, Mexican filmmakers have added a new layer of grit to the macho sub-genre of political allegory. With one horror, one thriller and one balls-to-the-wall action flick, I can here highlight Latin filmmakers’ use of single genres and distinctive stylisation to comment on the corrosive, violent climate of contemporary Mexican society.
‘Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are)’ tells the story of a family of cannibals living below the poverty line in Mexico City. Their ritualism and addictive behaviour mirrors the rotten dynamic at the heart of Mexican society, one in which there are fewer and fewer distinctions between the predatory actions of those at the top of the food chain and the desperate measures taken by those trying to climb up from the bottom.
Even more pointed and, admittedly, somewhat weaker for it is Rodrigo Plá’s ‘La Zona’, a brutal, exhilarating thriller about the violence inherent in the oppressive systems that segregate Mexican society.
Finally, Gerardo Naranjo’s stunning second feature ‘Miss Bala’ puts the audience on the front lines of the war between Mexico’s narco cartels, the FBI and the Mexican government. Naranjo’s film thrills and excites as an elegant, controlled action epic and terrorises the audience at every turn by placing them in a first-person-shooter scenario with no gun, no knife, no means of defence, only the urge to run as fast you can from the onslaught of violence that erupts in the streets. Perhaps the most successful of these allegorical genre films, ‘Miss Bala’s strength lies in its ability to engender not just sympathy but also a genuine sense of visceral terror that is shared between the audience and the helpless protagonist, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman). Though her family name translates to ‘warrior’ Laura’s survival depends on her value to her captors on either side of the battle, the same predicament faced by any other member of Mexican society, rich or poor, innocent or criminal. The war machine will roll on through and sometimes the only power that its victims have lies in not averting their eyes.
These 17 films may just about scratch the surface of the rich vein of Latin cinema currently available online and on DVD (and from just three countries). Latin culture is a powerhouse in its own right and the films listed here should leave even subtitle-phobic cinephiles hungry for another taste of Estilo Latino.
I can’t pretend to be a human encyclopedia of Latin cinema so if you have a great Argentine/Colombian/Mexican film to suggest for this list then please mention it in the comments below.Read less