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20 Essential Films For An Introduction To New Mexican Cinema

15 November 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Emiliano Serrano Lara

new mexican cinema

“New Mexican Cinema” is a term for a series of Mexican films produced upon the 1990’s and the 2000’s after what is regarded as a generally declining period for Mexican Cinema; a period in which filmmakers like Arturo Ripstein, Jorge Fons and Jaime Humberto Hermosillo are regarded as heralds the upcoming Mexican Cinema would learn from.

Those of the so called Golden Mexican Cinema of the 40’s and 50’s brought major attention to Mexican Cinema and got several prizes and recognition. Contrary to the canons of the Golden Mexican Cinema, the films of the New Mexican Cinema are meant to hold certain social commitment by offering raw depictions of the social and political problems Mexico faces.

The above mentioned doesn’t mean that the divorce between the New Mexican Cinema and the Golden Mexican Cinema is so remarkable, as there is an undeniable debt New Mexican Cinema owes to filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel and the performances of actors like Arturo de Córdova.

The New Mexican Cinema uses satire, black humor, and especially graphical violence to construct its language. This has gained some of its titles worldwide acclaim but also a considerable amount of controversy.

The next is a list of 20 essential New Mexican Cinema films. Though there are essential tittles that were excluded during its creation, the films here reflect the development of New Mexican Cinema from the 90’s to these days.

 

20. La mujer de Benjamín aka Benjamin’s Woman (Carlos Carrera, 1991)

Benjamin's Woman

Carrera’s debut was this comedy about one man’s obsession. Currently regarded as one of the best Mexican films ever made, La mujer de Benjamín (Benjamin’s Woman) was awarded  in several film festivals such as Amiens, Giovanni and Huelva.

The film follows Benjamín, a former boxer who is financially dependent on his sister, and Natividad, a young woman who desperately wants to get rid of the control of her mother.

Obsessed with Natividad and tired of his attempts to conquer her, Benjamín decides to open his mind to unorthodox and perhaps more effective methods.

 

19. Fecha de caducidad aka Expiration Date  (Kenya Márquez, 2011)

Fecha de caducidad

Fecha de caducidad is the feature debut of Kenya Márquez, former director of the Guadalajara International Film Festival. The film was featured in several film festivals all around the world and met generally positive reviews.

Presented from three different perspectives, Fecha de caducidad follows Ramona’s descent into madness after losing her loafer son.

Ramona’s obsession leads her to Genaro (Damián Alcázar), a journalism fanatic that works at a funeral home, and eventually to Mariana (Marisol Centeno), her elusive new neighbor.

Incapable of distinguishing between the reality and the delusions from her mind, Ramona will follow her obsessions.

 

18. Los insólitos peces gato aka The Amazing Catfish (Claudia Sainte-Luce, 2013)

Los insólitos peces gato

Premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival, where it was a nominee for the Golden Leopard, The Amazing Catfish is a tasteful comedy-drama mixture about solitude.

Written and directed by Claudia Sainte-Luce, the film is an intelligent depiction of the spontaneous irruption and redemption in the solitary world of a nearly alienated person.

Claudia, the ghastly worker of a supermarket, finishes dealing with appendicitis in the hospital. Her loneliness will soon spread to Martha, a woman facing the inevitable proximity of her death, who asks Claudia to follow her and her children. Claudia’s arrival to Martha’s family will drive away the unhappiness of Martha’s life and strengthen everyone before Martha’s death.

 

17. Por la libre aka Dust to Dust (Juan Carlos de Llaca, 2000)

Por la libre

Por la libre is a hopeful yet realistic statement about the complex family dysfunction New Mexican Cinema tends to explore. The film looks for a way to harmonically communicate tradition with present without disrespecting neither the importance of the tradition nor the redemption opportunities of the present.

Por la libre follows the journey of Rodrigo and Rocco, two antagonizing cousins united by their beloved grandfather’s last will. While everyone in their families is too busy arguing about their grandfather’s inheritance, Rodrigo and Rocco decide to accomplish the part of their grandfather’s last will no one seems to follow: throwing his ashes to Acapulco’s sea at sunrise.

The journey will change Rodrigo and Rocco’s perception of their families and, most important, one another. Also, it will reveal something about their grandfather, something they will have to overcome if they decide the love they have for their grandfather is as strong as they thought.

Winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Chicago Latino Film Festival, Por la Libre also got a special mention at the Havana Film Festival.

 

16. El callejón de los Milagros aka Midaq Alley (Jorge Fons, 1995)

El callejón de los Milagros

A film that brought attention to Mexican cinema after a decade of being mostly controlled by low quality cabaret movies. A settler of what New Mexican Cinema enfolds, El callejón de los Milagros is a solid adaptation of the Naguib Mahfuz’s homonymous novel.

Jorge Fons succeeded in developing the story’s magic realism atmosphere where fantasy and reality are harmonically fused.

Don Rutilo is an authoritarian family man who decides to give a shot to homosexuality. Alma (Salma Hayek in one of her first major roles) is a passionate woman struggling between keeping a love promise and succumbing to her urges. Susanita is a neurotic spinster trying to achieve her love dreams.

 

15. Profundo Carmesí aka Deep Crimson (Arturo Ripsten, 1996)

Profundo Carmesí

Profundo Carmesí is Arturo Ripstein’s cheerful dramatization of the story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, the serial killer couple responsible for, arguably, twenty deaths during a two year murderous spree.

The film won eight Ariel prizes, three Golden Osellas at Venice Film Festival and a special mention in the Latin American Section at Sundance Film Festival.

Without neglecting his attractive signature, Ripstein focuses on the relation between Beck and Fernandez as its complexity rises with the development of their murderous spree.

 

 

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  • Seth

    Very good list, but you made a mistake on the section about Hell. Hell makes reference to Felipe Calderon, not Vicente Fox… or Vicente Calderon, whoever that is.
    A good addition would be Güeros, a film released in some major festivals this year. It’s like a combination between Duck Season and Y Tu Mamá Tambien.

    Again, great list. Keep it up!

  • Parsinio

    Not only the author of this ‘article’ shows a huge ignorance on Mexican cinema, but also on how it has developed throught the last decades. Before “Amores Perros (Love’s a bitch, G. Iñárritú, 2000) the IMCINE (Mexican Institute of Cinema) didn’t give the support they began to give throughout the 2000’s and increasingly throught the 2010’s. Back in the 90’s there was no FIDECINE, FOPROCINE or 226, which are government funds or tax grants that have been helping filmmakers to finish their movies. Back in the 90’s, México would only produce less than a dozen movies a year. Nowadays (2014), México produces an average of 100 movies per year. Please, do some research and leave your taste out. Some of these movies are important but there are even more important movies which are not listed here, but I guess you have probably not seen them.

    • kathleen

      This site is focused in the comercial titles and on superficial “introductions” only, so this list fulfills what is expected of it. Do you really expect people will run to see “deep roots” if the have not even seen the basic stuff? I seriously doubt people come to this web sites to find “deep” information.

    • Fernando

      You’re right, there’s a change between 80’s cinema and the self called New Mexican Cinema, due to 1994 TLC with USA and Canada. But like Kathleen say’s this is not a socio-historical page. Maybe if the title of the article was “20 historical milestones of mexican cinema” i would agree with you, but no, it’s “20 essential films” by that title you can already tell that this list would be reductionist. On the other hand, i would like to hear wich are those movies that you think are really impotant mexican movies.

  • Aaron Dean

    Really need to see more of these. It’s incredibly important for me to connect with my heritage through what I’ve chosen as my field; few things can say as much about a nation as its cinema.

    Also, Heli was hand down the greatest achievement of the year. Not even Under the Skin or Ida match it. A searing masterpiece, one who’s importance as a piece of humanistic social commentary and art may not be fully realized for some time. I call it the “Come and See” of our time. Huge influence (stylistically) on what I’m working on now, too (http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/equivalence).

  • kathleen

    BTW, Decent list, like most of the onew this site elaborates. Keep them up!

  • Víctor Héctor Pacheco Terrón

    Great list! Thanks for not including “Sexo, pudor y lágrimas”, that
    movie sucks far beyond its relevance. I think only “Como agua para
    chocolate” is missing.

  • Ambrose Santiago

    Voy A Explotar is another great Mexican independent film.

  • Erick Torres

    Matando a cabos?

  • enigma9

    These are all must-see Mexican films:

    El Violin (Francisco Vargas, 2006)
    Erendira Ikikunari (Juan Mora Catlett, 2007)
    Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez Rubio, 2009)
    La otra conquista (Salvador Carrasco, 1999)

  • Stephus

    Many bad movies on this list, some missing movies that should be here are: love in times of hysteria, like water for chocolate, bienvenido welcome, Danzon, homework, sex shame and tears, excess baggage, and from the last years definitely we are what we are, the only Mexican film that has a remake in America.

  • Fernando Arenas

    Solo con tu pareja y Danzón are two other early New Mexican Cinema movies I remember and enjoyed at the time.

  • jesussandoval

    I would put in this list (Yo pondria en esta lista): Solo con tu pareja, El VIolin y Como agua para chocolate.

  • Iván Solorio (SanS)

    Solo con tu Pareja it’s a romatic comedy-drama of Cuarón. It should be on this list. Also Como Agua Para Chocolate should be on par (if not above) Callejón de los Milagros. And while Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas it’s a flawed film, it should be on this list simply cause it pushed the boundaries of Mexican mainstream cinema at the time.