Today we will sin recklessly. First, because we ventured to define which films can define the present of a country that is neither ours nor close to us. Then, because we will have selected a display of titles that talk about what has happened and is still happening, but not about how it feels to walk through the streets of Cancún, or Guadalajara, or any small town lost in the mountains. This list exists to be refuted: as an index and not as a conclusion to anything. That, in any case, is preferable to the default navel of canonical cinephilia.
The main social concerns that have appeared when looking for the most applauded Mexican films of the last fifteen yearsand that we have linked again in a list of personal recommendations, are: on the one hand, the war against the cartels, which in the years of Felipe Calderón’s war, from 2006 to 2012, left a total of sixty thousand people dead. Also living conditions of a working class lack of labor rights or growth expectations, from hotel services to construction, including night entertainment and prostitution. The fight for a necessary social relaxation towards gender canons and sexual orientationsthe vulnerability of indigenous cultures and the harsh migration crisis they just occupied this provisional review.
So, if you are looking for good documentaries to think and reflect on, here you will find doors that open to unknown but particularly familiar worlds (‘La mami’ shows that affections cross oceans), or if yours today are the films to continue with the feminist struggle, do not hesitate to continue reading: ‘Night of fire’ or ‘The chambermaid’ are waiting for you to make your blood boil. If, on the other hand, you want a challenge, ‘A police movie’ would fit perfectly into our films to impress a movie buff. They are all bets that you can recommend and they will never fail you. In the end, We have chosen ten varied films from a span of fifteen years…
Give them a try, because Ibero-American cinema is much more than its own skin: more than ‘Roma’, Alfonso Cuarón’s lively and emotional memory exercise in black and white, or than Guillermo del Toro’s films. For example, did you know the 20 best Argentine films in history? Before writing this topic, neither did I. If learning is a joy, this imperfect cinephile doorway to the Mexican reality should appeal to you. We talked about her on the occasion of the premiere of ‘Bardo, false chronicle of a few truths’ by Alejandro González Iñárrituwhich premiered at the Venice Film Festival and has already divided critics between those who believe it is an exercise in irresponsible narcissism, one of the worst Netflix original movies in its history (I repel it) and who has instantly relegated it to the drawer of the most visually incredible films in cinema.
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Bardo, false chronicle of a few truths (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2022)
In ‘Bardo’, a kind of autofiction by Alejandro González IñárrituDaniel Giménez Cacho explores the faces of his psyche (from his childhood traumas to his most intimate fears), while he walks through the metaphorical rubble of present-day Mexico: he first walks through a blanket of inert bodies of his compatriots (“disappeared” whom nobody seems to take into account) and then climbs a pyramid formed by the corpses of indigenous people, while in the background a transcript of Hernán Cortés is heard reciting verses by Octavio Paz. In this walk he will try to understand, through metaphorical means and no matter how hard he can get himself out of the way, how the monsters of his country move and speak.
Criticism of ‘Bardo, false chronicle of a few truths’
Sundown (Michel Franco, 2022)
Michel Franco twisted his finger on the wound of civil violence in ‘New order’ (2020), where a wealthy family saw its power falter due to a cruelly orchestrated coup from recalcitrant cynicism. Equally violent, although radically opposed to the pornography of the previous one (and, to be honest, much more intriguing), ‘Sundown’ is the portrait of a man (Tim Roth) who abandons his family and decides to stay on eternal vacations in Acapulco, wasting time, money, dropping all their social and affective stability. But what’s wrong with this guy? Violence, now yes, seems a backdrop as silent as it is inevitable.
Criticism of ‘Sundown’, by Michel Franco
Finland (Horacio Alcalá, 2021)
The debut feature by Spanish director Horacio Alcalá focuses on the muxe community in Oaxaca, where people define themselves as a third gender, to tell a story that vibrates with its own colors. Marta (Andrea Guasch) is a Spanish designer who is sent to Oaxaca to copy designs for her fashion brand from there. There she will meet the muxe community, made up of people sculpted in the same stone that welcomes her laments. Between folklore and an intense personal portrait, ‘Finlandia’ serves us to reaffirm, once again, that non-binaryism is not some European whim.
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Mommy (Laura Herrero Garvín, 2021)
The nights in Mexico City would not be the same without the dance halls, and one of the most memorable is the Barba Azul. How many stories will that iconic place in the Obrera neighborhood keep? Of all of them, the filmmaker Laura Herrero Garvín (‘El remolino’) decided to focus her camera on that of “Mami”, the woman who works in the bathroom at Barba Azul to take care of the dancers’ bags. With a discreet camera and a harmonious sensibility, ‘La mami’ presents anecdotes that are far from appearing in an anthology of fairy tales, but that Herrero Garvín turns stories full of warmth and complicity.
Criticism of ‘La Mami’
A police movie (Alonso Ruizpalacios, 2021)
In his third film, one of the best auteur films in Spanish of 2021, filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios assembles a (documentary? essay? made fiction?) to show us the lights and shadows of the mexican police. The x-ray is articulated thanks to the statements of the uniformed Teresa and Montoya, of honest opinions (far from boasting to anyone), and the performances of Mónica del Carmen and Raúl Briones, who give them life. On how reality and fiction fit together in a narrative that fables about the edges of an imaginary well watered with violence, and how the whole device makes sense; It is at this double intersection where a truly interesting film is built. The Netflix movie took the award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at Berlinale.
Night of fire (Tatiana Huezo, 2021)
What is visible in Tatiana Huezo’s are only the echoes of an unthinkable, unrepresentable violence. ‘Night of fire’ takes us to a town located in the Sierra de México, controlled by a drug cartel, and where mothers do everything possible to protect their daughters: they hide their appearance by cutting their hair and they have hiding places in their homes so that they are safe from those who want to take them away. bone won a special mention in the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, and it won the award for Best Latin American Film and the RTVE-Otra Mirada award for its work making gender violence visible.
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The chambermaid (Lila Avilés, 2018)
Lila Avilés’ first film became the reverse of ‘Roma’ following in the footsteps of Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a maid at a luxury hotel struggling to get ahead. The director of it belongs to a new generation of looks that breaks with the traditional patriarchal character of the country’s cinema and which they are committed to making visible as a political act, following in the footsteps of Chantal Akerman, director of ‘Jeanne Dielman’, one of the best feminist films in the history of cinema. They let us see, they force us to look into the eyes of those women (and workers) hidden by their class condition. The tape won Best Film at the Morelia Festival and Grand Jury Prize in Havanaand took Best First Feature at the Ariel.
Criticism of ‘La camarista’
I dream in another language (Ernesto Contreras, 2017)
Another from Sundance, this time the Audience Award in World Cinemaand winner of all the main Ariel (the Mexican Goyas) of 2017. Contreras departed from real case of a Mexican indigenous language, the ayapa zoque, who died because the only two people who spoke it hated each other and refused to interact. In the film, this was the starting point for Martín (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil), a linguist, to try to reconcile the last two men who speak zikril (Eligio Meléndez and Manuel Poncelis), a language that was invented exclusively for the film.
The Wild Region (Amat Escalante, 2016)
Hypocrisy, homophobia and machismo reign in the small town where Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and Ángel (Jesús Meza) live, a couple that will soon become a love triangle. Verónica (Simone Bucio), recently arrived, convinces them that in the nearby forest, in an isolated cabin, there exists a tentacular alien who is the solution to all your problems. The being that comes from outer space is capable of provoking a sexual pleasure that is as absolute as it is liberating, opening the doors to that abysmal dimension of our being that attracts us as much as it frightens us. ‘The wild region’ by Amat Escalante won Best Direction at the Venice Film Festival Y he expanded the Zulawskian influence of the dense Mexican fantastic world.
Review of ‘The Wild Country’
The golden cage (Diego Quemada-Díez, 2013)
In 2013, ‘The Golden Cage’ won the Best Cast award at Un Certain Regard in Cannes. Diego Quemada-Díez (renowned short filmmaker and camera operator for Spike Lee, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Tony Scott) elaborates the raw and moving story of four teenagers from Guatemala trying to cross into the United States through the border with Mexico. The film shows without concessions the horrors that migrants experience, the lack of opportunities and insecurity in Latin American countries. And don’t forget, of course, that there is a country to the north, the United States, to point to. Quemada-Díez hasn’t directed another film since then, but this one is more than memorable.
Review of ‘The Golden Cage’
In the hole (Juan Carlos Rulfo, 2006)
A Mexican legend tells that the devil asks for souls so that the bridges do not fall when they are built. The documentary film by Juan Carlos Rulfo (‘Letters at a distance’, 2021) follows the daily life of the workers who work in the construction of the tremendous second floor of the Peripheral Bridge of Mexico City DF… Far from ‘En construcción’ (José Luis Guerín, 2001), myths and megalomaniac works serve as a resource for a film that celebrates the dignity and wonder of the worker collective. The film won the Grand Prize of the International Documentary Jury at the Sundance Festival.
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