It’s that time of the year again! Whether you like it or not awards season is now in full swing. And while we’ll admit the Oscars are hit and miss with, well, pretty much everything (remember #OscarSoWhite?) there is one category that always delivers: Best Foreign Language Film. Because of its constraints (each country submits one film) as well as its global purview, it most often showcases some of the best work from around the world. Just last year Chile’s Sebastián Lelio took gold for his tender A Fantastic Woman.The past ten years alone has seen nominations for Mexico (Biutiful), Argentina (winner The Secret in Their Eyes, Wild Tales), Peru (The Milk of Sorrow), Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent) and Chile again (No).
Consider the full list below a way to keep track of the best of Latin American cinema you should catch in the next few months ahead of Oscar nominations.
From all eligible movies, nine will be announced in mid-December as part of the short list. From that list, Academy members will vote and select five as the official nominees. Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards are announced on January 22, 2019.
Based on the true story of Carlos Eduardo Robledo Puch (aka “El ángel de la muerte”), Luis Ortega’s film tells the story of the most famous serial killer in Argentina’s history. El ángel kicks off the story when Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) meets Ramon at his new school. Wanting to impress his new friend, Carlitos will begin the path that’ll make him a thief and a murderer. With his baby face and his blond curls the young killer became a celebrity when his exploits (which included over forty thefts and eleven homicides) were exposed and he was captured.
Jorge “Muralla” Rivera was a famous goalkeeper. Today he’s an alcoholic bus driver that sells a girl to a sex trafficking network to pay for his sick son’s surgery. But when the boy dies and his ghost torments Jorge, this former goalie will seek redemption by trying to rescue the girl he sold, although it may mean his own downfall. Directed by Rodrigo Patino and starring Fernando Arze as the titular goalkeeper, this Bolivian thriller blends high-octane sequences with a touching story of a man doing everything he can to do the right thing.
Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Cacá Diegues,The Great Mystic Circus is based on a poem in Jorge de Lima’s 1938 book A Túnica Inconsútil. The film tells the story of 5 generations of the same circus family. From the opening of the Great Mystic Circus in 1910 to the present day, we’re guided by Celavi, the master of ceremonies who never grows old. We follow the adventures and loves of the Knieps, from apogee to decadence, to the surprising finale, in a film in which reality and fantasy meet in a mystical universe.
Pancho Veloso, is an aging tabloid writer who returns to his hometown in Chile’s Patagonia four decades after fleeing it during the repressive Pinochet regime. In hopes of writing a worthy story about that region at the end of the world, he’ll have to confront his own past and leave his city-living posturing behind. That’s how he’ll be able to write his first ever novel, the ones who’ll turn his friends and lovers into characters and may yet turn him into a real-life artist.
Set in Colombia in the 1970s, right when the demand for marijuana is set to explode, Ciro Guerra’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent ditches the black and white aesthetic of his previous film for the colorful world of the Guajira desert. Yet again, though, he’s set his sights (alongside co-director and producer Cristina Gallego) on a story about the way Colombian history intersects with its indigenous population. Birds of Passage follows an Wayuu indigenous family who takes a leading role in the budding new drug trade, and discovers the perks of wealth and power, but with a violent and tragic downside.
'Medea' still. Courtesy of International Film Festival Panama
SUBMITTED BY COSTA RICA
In her directorial debut, Costa Rican director Alexandra Latishev Salazar paints a powerful portrait of a lost young woman in search of meaning. María José’s life moves back and forth between the monotony of classes, her eternally distant parents, rugby training, and wild nights with her friend, Carlos. Emotionally disconnected from her environment,she meets Javier, with whom she struggles to build a relationship. Through it all, she tries to live a normal life while carrying a secret no one wants to acknowledge.
Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias presents a layered, abstract portrait of his home island in his latest film, Cocote. Using a crime as a starting point, de los Santos Arias explores the lurking violence, corruption, class conflicts, and many opposing cultures and world views co-existing in contemporary Dominican Republic while evoking the avant-garde sensibility of Glauber Rocha. Evangelical Christian Alberto works as a gardener on a wealthy estate in Santo Domingo. When his father is murdered, he returns to the countryside of his childhood for the funeral. There, Alberto clashes with his sister, whose very different beliefs — those practiced by the lower classes on the island, a holdover from pre-colonial times — triggers a tense homecoming. Compounding Alberto’s anxieties, his family expects him to avenge his father’s death.
Pipe is invited to join his mysterious father on a quest for the lost Inca gold. But as they journey deeper into the jungle, he understands that they cannot escape the family demons that are traveling with them. Entirely shot by drones and featuring a cast of nonprofessional actors to better mimic the anthropological sensibility it’s trying to convey, Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador’s film (he also goes by Jamaicanoproblem) is a commentary on contemporary Ecuador as well as on its colonial past. But it’s also, at its heart, a coming of age film centered on family.
Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as a live-in maid and nanny for an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City’s Roma district. When the family patriarch departs for an unusually protracted business trip, his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is left at home. Inhabiting a role somewhere between family member and employee, Cleo helps Sofia and the kids through a period of difficulty, just as she is dumped by her self-absorbed boyfriend when he discovers she is pregnant. As both women face the possibility of single motherhood, it’s obvious that their disparate levels of social status will differently impact their possible futures. Roma subtly explores these ethnic and class divisions with a potent sense of emotional intimacy and historical acuteness.
Considered by many as the first musician to bring salsa music to an international audience, Panamanian singer, songwriter, and actor Ruben Blades is highlighted in a documentary that spans his 50-year career and gives audiences an in-depth look at his musical and political aspirations (does he really want to run for president of Panama?) and attempts to help Blades decide what the term legacy actually means. Blades has won 17 Grammys, earned a law degree from Harvard University and has starred in such films as the 1988 comedy drama The Milagro Beanfield War, 2000’s drama All the Pretty Horses and 2016’s biopic Hands of Stone. He currently stars in TV’s Fear the Walking Dead.
Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) are a middle aged lesbian couple living in present day Asunción, Paraguay. Descendants of Paraguayan aristocracy, the women have enjoyed a silver spoon lifestyle together for thirty years. When the couple is abruptly hit by financial hardship, they scramble to find work and auction off their respective heirlooms—silver spoons included—to stay afloat. When Chiquita is imprisoned for her fraudulent side hustle, Chela begins working as a taxi driver, gradually building new relationships and autonomy for the first time in her life. Each caged—one by a gutted lovenest, the other by razor wire—an irremediable distance grows between the two women. Set in writer-director Marcelo Martinessi’s hometown, The Heiresses embraces minimal dialogue, a twilight palette, and unconventional beauty to tell a melancholy yet satisfying story of new beginnings.
Peruvian director Oscar Catacora‘s film is a study in minimalism. It features only two characters: Willka and Phaxsi. The elderly couple spend their days fending for themselves in the Andes, chatting only with one another about days gone by and about the son they hope will return once more to their lives. Set against the foggy verdant mountains of Peru, Willka and Phaxsi’s story is a deeply personal one for Catacora, who grew up with his grandparents in not too dissimilar circumstances.
It is 1973. Uruguay is governed by a military dictatorship. One autumn night, three Tupamaro prisoners (played by Alfonso Tort, Antonio de la Torre, and Chino Darín) are taken from their jail cells in a secret military operation. The order is precise: “As we can’t kill them, let’s drive them mad.” The three men will remain in solitary confinement for twelve years, enduring the most grueling of tortures — all designed to drive them mad. Among them is Pepe Mujica (de la Torre), who later went on to become president of Uruguay. Based on the book Memorias del calabozo by Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, the two men who suffered alongside Mujica, this is a potent and visceral political film.
'La familia' still courtesy of New York Latino Film Festival
SUBMITTED BY VENEZUELA
Twelve-year-old Pedro roams the streets with his friends, raised by the violent urban atmosphere around him in a working class district of Caracas. After Pedro seriously injures another boy in a rough game of play, single father Andrés decides they must flee to hide. Andrés will realize he is a father incapable of controlling his own teenage son, but their situation will bring them closer than they have ever been. Director Gustavo Rondón’s paints a gritty, fast-paced picture of the violence of everyday life in Venezuela’s capital city while telling the story of a father willing to sacrifice everything for his son.