Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good Movies about Latin America

I was asked recently about which movies I would recommend about Latin America. I'm certainly not an expert on the topic, but I did want to highlight two, especially since they are not that well known: Men With Guns and Burn!

John Sayles is an independent American writer and director who has made some fantastic films in his time (Eight Men Out, Lone Star, and especially Matewan) but Men With Guns is one of his best. The story concerns a well-to-do doctor who lives in the capital city of some unnamed Latin American country. Initially unaware of the dirty war being waged by his government in the rural areas, he sets off into the campo in search of two of his students who disappeared while working at a rural medical clinic. He enters into a world where the poor, indigenous people are preyed upon by hombres armados on all sides. Trekking deeper and deeper into the jungle and the conflict, he leaves behind his comfortable world until he hears a rumor that his last student has taken refuge -- high up in the mountains -- in a village that has never known violence.

Sayles' style is very simple, almost primitive. The doctor's quest is not explicitly religious, but contains powerful currents of a spiritual quest as well as a search for personal redemption. Sayles doesn't much go in for the sort of magical realist imagery that the Latin American setting might suggest, but he reaches for universal truths and manages to grasp them. A sad movie, but thoughtful and moving.

The Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo is most famous for The Battle of Algiers, his dissection of colonialism and terrorism in the Algerian civil war. In Burn! he once again tackles the topic of colonialism, focusing on the way the colonial powers managed to maintain economic control even as their colonies were achieving independence. The film stars Marlon Brando as a British agent sent to a Portuguese colony (loosely based on Guadeloupe) to foment an independence movement that would open up the region to British trade. After a successful revolution, he returns ten years later to put down another revolt led by his former compañeros.

Brando gives a typically great performance as the charismatic, amoral British agent, as does Evaristo Márquez as the rebel leader. The film's analysis of colonialism is sharp and cynical, but makes for an exciting and fascinating story.

There are several other good films that are pretty topical. Although I haven't watched it in years, The Mission was beautiful and sad, telling the story of Jesuit missionaries in South America who stand with a Guarani tribe against the onslaught of the conquistadores. The story of El Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero is so inherently compelling that the film version (starring Raul Julia) is worth watching despite being kind of mediocre. And because not everything is about war and death, I'm a big fan of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, which is heartfelt and charming (but, you know, very sexually explicit and NSFW).

Nicaragua itself doesn't produce very many films, although that is starting to change. One recent local film that I've been really wanting to see is La Yuma, a drama about a female boxer that was a big hit down here a few years ago and became only the 6th Central American film to be submitted to the Oscars for competition in the Best Foreign Film category.

If anyone knows any other good films about Latin America (especially comedies!), please leave them in the comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment