Latin American cinema

UK release date: 01 February 2007

Near the US/Mexican border there are probably a thousand god-fearing Texans, squeezed into their self made nuclear bunkers, rifles fixed on Mexico, ready to repel the hoards of unwanted immigrants from South of the border.

Little do they know it’s not going to do them any good: Latin America has already taken over Hollywood. Last week saw the big screen release of Babel, Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu’s acclaimed third movie. Nominated for ahost of Oscars and boasting a cast of Hollywood heavyweights, it is likely to reach blockbuster status. But Babel is just one of many: sail down the Americas and you’ll discover a continents worth of innovative cinematic talent waiting to be discovered. Here presents a taco sized taster of six Latin American movies that may have passed you by.MexicoIrritu has actually spent close to a decade treating film festivals to his unique, modern Mexican take on the human condition. A good starting point is Amores Perros. Centred around a car crash, the film shows how a seemingly isolated incident connects a variety of different lives.

Like a disembowelled road kill, the story takes three unexpected and often violent threads. Imagine LA Story with graphic dog fighting, disfigured models, street gangs and a wry tramp. Add to this memorable performances from a host of rising acting talent, including Gael Garca Bernal, and it becomes essential viewing, in much the same way that Mean Streets has to be seen for a young Robert De Niro and Harvey Kietel.

Bernal is also one of the protagonists in Alfonso Cuarn’s Y Tu Mama Tambien. Essentially a road trip with a stomach knotting twist, Cuarn manages to fit in enough teen angst and sexual comedy to create a sort of Woody Allen/Dazed and Confused sub genre. If Cuarn’s quality was ever in doubt, a little further down the road, he went on to direct the fantastic Children Of Men.

BrazilCity of God
Not for kids: Fernando Meirelles’ Ciudade de Deus (City of God)Football might be labouring in a wheezing mess of over hyped, over paid talent, but the Brazilian film industry is still bristling with magic. Fernando Meirelles’ Ciudade de Deus (City of God) has been dubbed ‘the Brazilian Goodfellas’ and for good reason – it is every bit as accomplished. Based on very real lives in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums, the story follows the depressinglyyoung rise and eventual bloody fall of a street gang. To the beat of Samba and sub-machine guns, cheeky kids graduate to terrifying psychopaths in the blink of an eye, and the favellas become soaked with blood. Intelligent, violent, compelling and charming, this is a must watch.ColombiaFrom the country in perpetual civil war, notorious in the Western media for kidnappings and corruption, comes something refreshingly different. Lisandro Naranjo’s, Los Nios Invisibles is a magical childhood story of a young boy’s attempts to become invisible to escape from his troubles, which won Best Colombian Film at the 2001 Bogota Festival. Filled with black magic, potions and the darker side of a kid’s imagination, it is the sort of film that will twist minds well into adulthood. Tim Burton’s movies and warped 1980s CBBC classics like ‘The Box Of Delights’ are the best points of reference.ArgentinaBolivia
Gritty underbelly: Adrin Caetano’s BoliviaThe economy might be in ruins but it seems that Argentineans are still ploughing plenty of resources into the movies, and a good thing too. On average there have been over sixty films made a year since 2001 and most have been well worth a watch. Adrin Caetano’s Bolivia is a good way to get past the usual, slick, tango postcard image to the country’s gritty underbelly. Shot in 16mm black and white, the film focuses on Freddy, a poor Bolivian waiter. Spending most of his time working a dead-end job in a cafe, he is subjected to a range of ignorant, disturbing and often comical views espoused by his customers. Dealing with themes of racism and poverty, it is an eye-opening look at what goes on under the bright lights of a fashionable city.UruguayFrom grit to wit, Juan Pablo Rebella’s 25 Watts is a quintessential slacker movie with a South American setting. Following an average day of three friends in Montevideo, the characters mooch around digesting pop culture issues with large slices of irony. Embittered and bewildered, their topics range from high society musins to contemplating the shit on their shoes. The result is a movie that flows effortlessly, like a Latin Kevin Smith at the top of his game: sadly, though, there is no ‘Juan y Bob Silencioso’.

The films of Latin America are every bit as diverse, challenging and original as the continent itself. As many a frustrated budget backpacker will know, there simply isn’t time to do it all justice. But my advice would still be: take a gap year and pitch up in the ‘world cimema’ section of the DVD rental shop.

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