8. The Wind Journeys” (Los viajes Del viento) (2009, Ciro Guerra)
Groundbreaking landscape contemplation and slow development of the true nature of the characters are the premises of this beautiful story.
Ignacio suffers from the tragic death of his wife. He is an old vallenato (Colombian traditional music) singer-musician that owns the devil’s accordion. He sets on a journey back to the instruments’ home ground and is accompanied by a young apprentice who becomes his squire along the journey through the Colombian meadowlands up to the most northern coasts of the country.
Along many miles of hard road the two men begin their personal quest for the meaning of life, the transcendence of the actions taken along their lives and the introspectiveness of musicians. The movie talks about the importance of the rooted ancient traditions, which are common to the most isolated towns and settlements across the Latin American continent.
9. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) (2009, Juan José Campanella)
The Hitchcock inspired mystery thriller was worldly praised for its exquisite screenplay and stimulating plot, an effort that translated into an Oscar for Best Foreign Film among many other global acknowledgments.
The story follows a retired detective named Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) who revisits a forgotten case for a novel he plans on writing, he stumbles upon new evidence and information about the case, this reignites his detective nature and some unfinished business from his personal and romantic past.
With notorious sequence plans that submerge the viewer into a nail biting mystery until the end of the film, the movie is an example of the richness and evolution of the cinematographic resources developed along this last century by Latin Cinema.
10. NO (2012, Pablo Larraín)
An ambitious political movie about the power of ideas and the role of talented individuals grouped to change history for millions. The film is an adaptation of Antonio Skarmeta’s theater play The Plebiscite, which narrates the story behind the political campaign that triumphantly set opposition to Chile’s Dictator Augusto Pinochet and eventually led to the democratic elections a year after.
The movie centers on Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), a publicist hired by the opposition to create a campaign that would make a substantial change in the population voting expectations regardless of the scarce resources allowed by a controlling government. The campaign’s innovative and peculiar approach is the neuralgic matter of the film and becomes a personal cause for the team representing the duality between the fear and the will of change.
11. Bad Hair (Pelo Malo) (2013, Mariana Rondón)
Junior, a 9 year old kid from Caracas is obsessed with his hair. His off the top afro hairdo unsettles him and drives him to do everything he can to straighten it, trying to look like a pop star for the annual school picture portraits. Filmed in el 23 de Enero, one of the biggest social housing developments of the world, the urban context becomes a labyrinthine playground for this kid’s adventure.
While dealing with this, Junior’s mom struggles with the daily problems that face many of the single mothers of Venezuela’s capital city. Low wages, sexual discrimination and the poor quality of life become obstacles that enable her to play the role of a supporting mother.
The apparently naïve problem revolving around Junior’s hair becomes an analogy of the freedom of speech and opinion in Venezuela’s traditional society, consequently addressing controversial topics like the role of the families in children’s sexual orientation.
12. The Golden Cage (La jaula de oro) (2013, Diego Quemada-Díez)
Probably the greatest road movie set in the region, the film is an epic drama about child immigration from Central America to the United States that portrays one of the fundamental issues of Latin society. A group of young kids from a Guatemalan village set on a journey for a better future travelling up north following the train railway road across Mexico and on to the US border.
Along the movie, Juan, the leader of the group is confronted with its own character and beliefs, and the irrefutable need to become a man way ahead of its time, taking difficult and complicated decisions for him and the friends taken under his wing.
In spite of dealing with sexual exploitation, racism, child abuse and urban violence face to face, the group is settled to continue the dangerous journey at any cost. Although the movie is a crude representation of the social and economical conditions that trigger desperate and risky life-changing decisions, it is also a picture about the importance of friendship, courage and values needed to overcome the great obstacles in life.
13. The Longest Distance (La distancia más larga) (2014, Claudia Pinto Emperador)
The movie is about an almost coincidental encounter between two family runaways in one of the most visually shocking regions of the world, La Gran Sabana. This natural wonder, almost a character in itself, sets the scenario for Martina, a terminal disease patient who traveled far to reunite with her past and her sorrows. But the unexpected appearance of his nephew Lucas, who recently lost her mother in a violent crime, changes everything for her, in spite of her stubbornness and original plans.
Spanish actress Carme Elías (Martina) is one of the highlights of the film, portraying human emotions in a range that goes from the uncertainty of death to the complete joy of life. The film is set as a road movie and creates an analogy with life itself as a journey from one point to another.
14. Behavior (Conducta) (2014, Ernesto Daranas)
Once again Latin cinema, through the vision of a child character, tells a profound story about family values and the socio-political complexity of the region. The movie centers in Chala, a troubled 11 year old boy who lives alone with his addicted mother and works with dog fights. Carmela, his sixth grade teacher, soon to be retired from the Cuban public school system, is the only one that seems to look after the boy.
Different everyday situations at school triggered by Chala’s charismatic and peculiar behavior allows the movie to show the reality of the Cuba of today. Social segregation, political discrimination and the abuse of power by government employees (one of today’s most important issues in the continent) are portrayed with accuracy and from critical point of view. Nevertheless, the story, filled with the warmth of the Caribbean and its social idiosyncrasy, delivers a beautiful message of optimism for the times to come.
15. Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) (2014, Damián Szifron)
A black comedy about the absurdity of modern society that takes the fiction genre to the extremes results in one of the most innovative movies of the past years, from its screenplay to its cinematography. Divided in different short films independent to each other, Wild Tales unite all characters under the umbrella of some of the rawest universal themes: vengeance, rage, impotence, sorrow and treason are the true protagonists of the film.
One of the biggest accomplishments of the movie resides in the hyperbolic resources used in the story to emphasize the animal instinct in human beings and to create this great portrait of man’s behavior in extreme situations.
The cast of the movie and the richness of the many characters transport the viewer into an almost addictive experience, where you almost don’t want the movie to end, expecting to see more of this wild tales. No sequels are expected but the movie definitely sets a turning point to Latin American Cinema in terms of the cinematographic achievements and the groundbreaking approach developed by writer-director Damián Szifron.
If one would like to go deeper inside Latin American cinema, the following movies are also recommended to complete the basic list:
María Full of Grace (María llena eres de gracia)
The Son of the Bride (El hijo de la novia)
Rosario Scissors (Rosario Tijeras)
Postcards from Leningrad (Postales de Leningrado)
The Motorcycle Diaries (Los Diarios de Motocicleta)
The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada)
Author Bio: Sven Methling is an architect and construction technology developer from Caracas, Venezuela. He works as a researcher and professor at Simon Bolívar University. He is passionate about cinema since early stages of life.