Quarantine is the ideal time to discover these film gems that reflect both the richness of the Latino imagination and the shortcomings of our society. In the following article, we give you a brief overview of five pieces of contemporary Latin American cinema that you must see. All of them feature powerful discourses that may challenge your vision of our society, along with impeccable photography and great acting.
If you don’t find anything new to watch on Netflix or if you are bored of watching the typical rom-com over and over again, we invite you to check this list and enjoy the best of our Latin cinema.
Ema is a Chilean drama film directed by Pablo Larraín. The story follows the life of Ema (Mariana di Girolamo), a young dancer whose marriage walks the tightrope after an accident forced them to give back their adopted son, Polo. Taking place in today’s Valparaíso, Ema features a captivating and striking aesthetic as well as a curious narrative style that keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess and connect the dots to understand why Ema does everything she does. She is a wounded woman who is constantly reminded of what a terrible mother she is, even though her only wish is to have her adopted son back. In the first half of the film, as the information is given to you in dribs and drabs, it is difficult to understand what is going on, however, when we’re reaching the film’s climax when all the pieces fit together, the story is finally complete, leaving a wholesome feeling. Ema gives you a journey that’s definitely been worthwhile. The film is incredibly well acted, from the smallest role to the leading one, and has polished photography by Sergio Armstrong.
The Similars (2015)
Los Parecidos is a Mexican mystery and science fiction film directed and scripted by Isaac Ezban. What resonates about this move is its particular aesthetic that imitates the 60’s-70’s horror films. The Similars follows the story of 8 people trapped in a bus station –where almost the entire movie takes place– during a storm that seems to have no end. Two workers, a man whose wife is giving birth in Mexico City, a pregnant woman, a young medical student, a shaman, and a single mother in charge of her very sick child are the ones trapped in the station. Everyone is desperate to get out of there, but no one can, and the longer they have locked up the stranger it gets at the station, paranoia starts acting on everyone, which leads to a surreal twist you don’t want to miss. The film’s aesthetic, treated like the old, B-movie sci-fi horror productions, is flawlessly achieved. The movie doesn’t rely on its creepy aesthetic; it features some incredible acting choices and a script that makes you pay close attention to the bizarre protagonists in their collective anguish. As it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, if it is your cup of tea, you will enjoy this movie as much as it should be enjoyed.
From Afar (2016)
Armando (Alfredo Castro), a small businessman in his 50s who works in his own dental clinic, wanders the streets of Caracas’ slums looking for young boys. He spots them, stalks them, and approaches them, money in hand, clearly visible with his intentions. Once at home, he does not touch them. His abuse does not involve carnal contact. The film focuses on the relationship he establishes with Elder (Luis Silva), one of the street boys he frequents. Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas’ opera prima has a premise that explores the dynamics of power amid a country where misery reigns. The film took the top prize at the 2015 Venice International Film Festival and received several nominations in international festivals. The extremely subtle narrative of ‘From Afar’ invites the viewer to make a personal interpretation of the plot. The main actions of the film can be seen from a psychological point of view, taking into account the shortcomings and past of each of the characters, or from a social point of view, where money and privilege prevail.
A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Sebastián Lelio directed this mesmerizing yet profoundly moving and thought-provoking Oscar-winner film about Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman dealing with grieve following the death of the love of her life (Francisco Reyes). Daniela Vega does a splendid performance. Marina’s stoic, exhausted, and almost apathetic reaction to her lover’s death is what is genuinely haunting about the film. She indeed knew it was bound to happen, but that does not make it any less shocking. What follows next is not only her journey dealing with the pain of grieve but also having to deal with humiliating and prejudicial situations around her transgender status. Vega has a genuinely fascinating face, and the camera makes the most of it. There’s a nightclub sequence that moves from pain to sheer sensuality to a fantasy dance number. Still, there’s a depth to her characterization, which is unparalleled and makes the film truly something. The last act doesn’t hold as good as the previous ones; however, this is a great film and a necessary one. It’s hard to even talk about LGBT matters in most of Latin America, that’s where the significance of Sebastian Lelio’s work lies.
Pelo Malo (2013)
This Venezuelan film directed by Mariana Rondon was the dark horse of the 61st San Sebastian Film Festival, winning the Golden Shell against all the odds. In the film, we meet Junior, a nine-year-old boy with “bad hair.” He wants to straighten it for the school photo, but that brings him into conflict with his mother, a 30-year-old widow struggling to cope in a hostile society. His paternal grandmother offers to take care of the boy for good, but it seems she only wants him to take care of her when she gets older. The mother does not accept and begins the re-education of Junior, who adores his mother and wants her to accept him. This film was definitely ahead of its time, addressing issues as sensitive as LGBT+ Youth, race, and Euro-centric standards of beauty. Conversations that today seem to be popular both in cinema and in any media platform. Built from the innocence of childhood, Bad Hair is a heartbreaking story of how difficult it is to be black and different in a society full of sexism.
Perhaps you already knew or watched some of these movies, in that case, we invite you to rewatch them after reading this article and relive these exciting exponents of Latin American cinema.