I am ashamed to admit it, but I became conscious of Latin cinema only about the same time that the United States discovered Like Water for Chocolate (released in the USA in 1993). I know, I know. Its rather sad; but, thanks to the popularity of films like Amores perros (2000) and Y tu mamá también (2001), films from south of the border are much easier to find nowadays. Since Latin cinema is older than Hollywood (Mexico’s first film, Don Juan Tenorio, was made in 1898!), I was ready to delve into our film canon, so I searched through some DVD rental websites. What I found both surprised and frustrated me.
My first stop, of course, had to be Netflix where I was happy to see Foreign Films subcategorized by “Spanish Language” and “Latin America”. If you click on either one, a screen will pop up, littered with recent releases like the Mexican, telenovela blockbuster La Mujer de Mi Hermano and the Brazilian, love-triangle tale Lower City. Yet the films are only categorized by their star rating and not by genre. For that you have click on the subcategories like “Foreign Drama” and “Foreign Action”. Otherwise Cantinflas films are thrown in with El Chavo del Ocho episodes and the Rubi telenovela series. Going down the list is tiring, but I did find some films I am interested in watching — like the work of 1950s Mexican horror director Fernando Mendez and one of the first Brazilian Cinema Novo films Vidas Secas. I immediately queued The Golden Cockerel, a film written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. If you have time to spare, scrolling the various lists is sort of like a haphazard crash course in Latin cinematic history, and once you like someone’s work you can search for your favorite directors and actors.
Although Netflix’s selection is pretty good, some questions do come up regarding their categorization. Like why have films categorized under “Latin American” and “Spanish Language” — which should overlap but don’t — rather than by country especially from the prolific ones such as Mexico, Brazil, and Spain? After all they offer plenty of films from those countries. (Germany, Taiwan and Hong Kong all get their own categories.)
Blockbuster.com works in pretty much the same way that Netflix does, except you can search by year or alphabetical order rather than by ratings. Films only go as far back as 1963, however, and the early selection consists mostly of horror films (though fun ones). Still, the newer selections are pretty decent and include trailers, which is a plus. Blockbuster has Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero’s Ratas, Ratones, y Rateros and his latest film, Crónicas (John Leguizamo’s first Spanish-language film). I am looking forward to seeing Francisco J. Lombardi’s Peruvian, coming-of-age film No Se Lo Digas a Nadie, about an upper-class gay teen.
Sadly, however, when I searched for Guillermo del Toro’s films, all that Blockbuster had was Hellboy. They should order The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos. Blockbuster makes up for this with their Pedro Almodóvar collection, which includes his early work like Dark Habits (1984). A friend tells me that the company is known for being conservative, but the fact they carry Almodóvar and the nearly pornographic Lower City makes me believe that they have changed their policy.
Although I was excited to find out that Blockbuster and Netflix aren’t monopolizing the DVD rental industry, good luck finding a Latin American film at Cafedvd.com and Qwikfliks.com, which clumps all films made outside the US under “Foreign”. That is, unless you know what you are looking for in which case you could do a search. They do have all the most recent Spanish and Latin American films nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy, but that’s about it. Dvdavenue.com does list films in Spanish; too bad there are only 18 of them