Guest Post - A Beginner’s Guide to Latin American Cinema: My Top 5

Today we have a guest post by Laura Moulden about Latin American cinema, including her top five movies and a bit of general background about the genre. 

Laura Moulden
First thing’s first, this is a beginner’s guide because I am a beginner. A veritable newbie to the film industry, I have just completed my first ever ten minute script. And this recent foray into film has led me on a path of discovery. Moving away from Hollywood and into more niche areas, I’ve discovered a world of amazing new titles that have opened my eyes to the power and complexities of modern cinema. Most recently: Latin American style.

So, a bit of background… Latin American cinema is a mish-mash of cinematic styles and textures originating predominantly from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. State and foreign films have been and still are the main channels of film-making, but in recent years, home-grown, artsy films like La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman) have become more commonplace.

Now with an estimated 600 million film-goers local cinema is contributing increasingly to the region’s economic strength – but it’s also starting to put South America on the map. In fact, worldwide audiences have flocked to see its films including City of God (2002), Whiskey (2004), and the critically acclaimed Pans Labyrinth (2006). And as the industry continues to move into the mainstream, several airlines are now offering Latin American cinema as part of their in-flight entertainment.

Funding is still an issue, however. Even prolific screenwriters like Lucrecia Martel have trouble finding the cash to get their films made. The current structure of the industry is to reward firms and companies who privately fund films, with tax deductions. However, this model raises the question of whether cinema is restricted by the cautious nature of entrepreneurs, anxious about what they associate with their brand.

Nonetheless, whilst the industry is undoubtedly heading in the right direction, here are my five must-see films for a Latin-American initiation:

The secrets in their eyes

5. El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in their Eyes)

Argentinian cinema enjoyed an industry high with El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in their Eyes). Retired legal counsellor, Benjamin, is writing a novel based on his own life story to confront the ghost of a past homicide case and unrequited love. But when he gets to work, he has no idea it will leave him searching for answers that haven't yet been solved.

The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2008.

4. E Proibido Fumar (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes)

A twisted love story in São Paulo, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ follows the heart-breaking story of lonely forty-something, Baby, whose only meaningful relationship is with her cigarettes. That is, until hot musician, Max, moves in next door and the pair embark on a heady romance, prompting Baby to quit smoking.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and when Max’s former flame Estelinha starts to spend more time on the scene, insecure Baby is overcome with jealousy. Determined to find out what’s going on, Baby tries to follow Estelinha one night in her car. But tragedy strikes when she accidentally hits her nemesis, killing her.

Will anybody uncover the truth? And will Baby ever learn to live with her guilt?

the headless woman

3. La Mujer Sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman)

La Mujer Sin Cabeza follows the poignant tale of an Argentinian woman, whose life is erased by her male family members after she suspects herself of being involved in a hit and run incident.

An interesting interpretation of the film’s symbolism, expressed by The New York Times, is that is a meditation on Argentina’s historical memory, as the protagonist’s silent disavowal of responsibility for her crime is juxtaposed with the country’s silence during its dictatorship.

2. Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Based on true events and characters, the ‘City of God’ is not for the faint-hearted. A classic piece of cinema, this gritty portrayal of ghetto life through adolescence is described by many as nothing short of stunning.

Brutally unflinching, the film touches on the unthinkable told through the eyes of a young man trying to make something of himself as a photographer in a place where drug lords are king and children killing children is an everyday occurrence.

1. El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Pan's Labyrinth
image courtesy of

Last but by no means least, Pan’s Labyrinth is the twisted fairytale of Ophelia, an adolescent girl on a mystical quest to take back control of her kingdom.

Pitted against a bleak backdrop of fascist Spain, this truly original film is bursting with all the elements of a great fairytale – fauns, foes and faeries – taking you through a myriad of twists and gruesome turns.

So there you have it; my top five South American films. What do you think? Do these titles nail it or have I missed out some essential Latino titles?

Laura Moulden is a UK-based copywriter, blogger and screenwriting newbie. You can follow her at her personal blog here.

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