The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

Movies to watch during Hispanic Heritage Month

Watching internationally produced Hispanic films can be a bit of a challenge due to distribution rights in the United States, but for those still looking to celebrate our Hispanic communities, here are some recommendations for you. There is no doubt that the two most internationally recognized Hispanic countries, in terms of film, are Mexico and Chile. Both countries have spawned the careers of notable actors and directors, but when considering an entry point here is a place to start. 

After the critical and commercial success of U.S. productions such as “Gravity” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron decided to take on a project that took him back to his roots. “Roma” is an interesting and meditative take on life lived through the backdrop of civil unrest in Mexico City during the 1970s. This film can come across as a bit slow and aimless, but it delivers a fascinating look at class, privilege, and gender politics set during a time that we are not often made aware of. 

It is also the first Mexican film to win Best International Feature at the Academy Awards. (“Roma” is streaming on Netflix.) We cannot talk about Cuaron without mentioning the other two pieces that complete the trifecta of Mexican film, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alejandro Iñárritu. Most people are familiar with the work of Del Toro for films like “Hellboy 1 & 2”, “Pacific Rim”, and Best Picture-winning “The Shape of Water.” 

While these are great films, I propose his 2006 dark fantasy classic, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Mythologized by the infamous 22-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, it went on to win a few technical awards at the Oscars, but it will forever stand as Del Toro’s fully realized fantastical commentary on the effects of war. (“Pan’s Labyrinth” is available on demand.) Most of Iñárritu’s success has come at the hand of his domestic productions, “Birdman” and “The Revenant,” both winning him best director at the Oscars.  

I recommend his 2000 grimy crime drama “Amores Perros”. This Gael Garcia Bernal led film gives an unrelenting, unapologetic look at Mexico City’s crime-ridden underworld. I would recommend treading with caution here due to several problematic and extreme elements, but it is an interesting play and subversion of a soap-opera type story. (“Amores Perros” is streaming on Paramount Plus.) Now on to the Chileans! Chile’s first, and only, international feature Oscar came thanks to Sebastian Lelio’s 2018 drama A “Fantastic Woman.” 

Despite framing itself as a romance/soft procedural, this film portrays the struggles of a trans woman dealing with the fallout of the death of her partner. Through incredible visuals and performances, Lelio looks at the effect of societal prejudice and injustice on an individual’s journey of identity. (A “Fantastic Woman” is streaming on STARZ.) Pablo Larrain’s efforts as of late have been focused on dramatic and stylized biopics of influential figures.  

From “Jackie,” the Natalie Portman led account of the aftermath of the JFK assassination, to “Spencer,” the Kristen Stewart fronted recount of a critical moment in Princess Diana’s life. His latest film “El Conde,” interprets the legacy of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and unlike the other two films mentioned, Larrain has decided to go full-on satire as he reimagines this political figure as an aging vampire ready to die. This film was released earlier this month and just in time for the Halloween season, as his black and white, blood-soaked “comedy” harkens back to the classic monster movies of the 40s. (“El Conde” is streaming on Netflix.)  

If you are itching for some more Hispanic horror look no further than “La Llorona”. This Guatemalan film directed by Jayro Bustamante similarly examines civil unrest in the country following the acquittal of a violent general. Looking through the lens of supernatural horror, Bustamante visualizes due justice in a thrilling way. (“La Llorona” is streaming on AMC+ and Shudder.) 

If you are looking for something a bit more lighthearted and comedic, check out the 2016 Costa Rican film “About Us”. Hernan Jimenez writes, directs, and stars in this romantic comedy about a couple looking to solve their problems on a beach vacation. After an unexpected reunion with an old friend, the couple finds themselves questioning their relationship even more. (“About Us” is available on demand.)  

One of the remarkable things about Hispanic filmmaking is the effect of passion and experience on its creators. These countries are still dealing with constant political and social conflict, and more so, its lasting effects. Many of the leading voices in space have some sort of direct connection to these environments that lends itself to vibrant and ambitious depictions of the people who live there.  

This list is merely a scratch on the surface of internationally produced Hispanic films that extends far beyond its borders. I would encourage anyone to do a quick Google search and find something that speaks to you. The past few years have seen an increase in big studios, primarily Netflix, picking up distribution for these films out of festivals.  

While it often gives them a chance to compete on a stage like the Oscars, more importantly, makes it easier for a global audience to discover and pursue these rich and diverse stories being told. While there is still a lot of work to be done, there is a bright future for the presence of Hispanic representation in the industry. 

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