With its recent Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman, Chile cemented itself as a powerhouse when it comes to Latin American cinema. That should have come as no surprise to anyone paying attention. With lauded work by the likes of Pablo Larraín, Pablo Trapero, Dominga Sotomayor, Sebastian Silva, Sebastian Lelio, and Marialy Rivas, among others, Chile has been producing excellent movies that grapple both with the country’s dark past and imagine an even brighter future.
Whether you’re looking to dive into a country’s filmography that remains all too new for you, or eager to revisit some of your faves, we’ve compiled a sampling of 20 films — all available to stream! — that you can watch to get a sense of Chile’s storied cinematic history. Check them all below.
Available to stream on Netflix.
This raucous Chilean comedy follows Pía (Paz Bascuñán), a woman who, after visiting a Chinese doctor to settle a pain in her chest, finds herself unable to filter her thoughts. Everything she would usually bottle up—her frustrations with her partner, with her boss, with strangers on the street—suddenly flows out of her. This being a comedy in the vein of Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar, Pía soon finds out that while this newfound honesty is liberating, it also comes at a price.
Those looking for a straight-up biopic of famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, have come to the wrong film. In its place, Pablo Larraín has crafted a meta-poetic treatise on fiction and politics. Ostensibly, we’re being told the story (in first person voiceover narration) of how police officer Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is trying to capture Neruda (Luis Gnecco), now a wanted man by the state. But with a dreamlike, fragmented shooting style that disorients you from line to line, Larraín is as interested in evoking Neruda’s artistry as he is in crafting a thrilling chase through late ’40s Chilean landscapes.
Una mujer fantástica
Marina (Daniela Vega), the transgender heroine of A Fantastic Woman, is beautiful, enigmatic, and plunged into a precarious situation after her boyfriend dies unexpectedly in her company. Fifty-seven-year-old divorcé Orlando (Francisco Reyes) wakes in the middle of the night, suffers an aneurism, and falls down some stairs, sustaining injuries that will come to haunt Marina after she takes him to the hospital and attempts to slip away before authorities and family members begin prying. Marina knows she’s regarded with suspicion for her youth, class, and, above all, gender status. She expects to gain little from Orlando’s demise, but the viciousness of Orlando’s son, the cold-heartedness of Orlando’s ex-wife, and the intrusiveness of a detective from the Sexual Offenses Investigation Unit force Marina to not only clear her name, but also to demand the very thing no one seems willing to give her: respect.
Family maid and nanny Raquel has been working with the same family for years taking caring of their ginormous house and grounds and also helping to raise their kids. Like most families over time both kids and parents experience growing pains—mostly over minor dramas involving surging teenage hormones and power struggles for independence. But for Raquel, who both is and isn’t the authority figure in these kids’ lives, this period is particularly difficult especially when it comes to dealing with feisty teenage Camila who tries to get her own way and reminds Raquel of her place as the one who is supposed to take orders not give them. The family’s mother, exasperated with any kind of domestic drama, sees Raquel’s exhaustion and insists that another maid be hired to help Raquel with her large workload. But Raquel is super territorial and in a series of hilarious scenes finds near-demonic ways to literally and figuratively shut out potential new help as a series of maids begin their jobs and promptly quit under Raquel’s sadistic schtick. But one maid, Lucy, is different and sees through Raquel’s defense tactics. Figuring Raquel has lived most of her adult life without a family or any kind of personal life outside of her employers Lucy warms to rather than runs away from Raquel and begins to show Raquel what happiness just might feel like. The film, with a sometime handheld camera style that mimics Raquel’s nervous OCD tendencies, manages to be dark, hilarious, frustrating, and poignant—shying away from any criticism of the class structures that underlie such situations but even so it’s a real winner.
Joven y Alocada
Daniela is a 17 year-old who falls in love with both a guy and a girl. She juggles the relationships, trying to avoid one from finding out about the other. Daniela documents all her sexual exploits in a blog that develops a huge following. The film, Joven y Alocada — taking its name from the real-life blog it is based on — is playful, frenetic, and exuberant, mimicking teenaged Daniela’s explosive sexual urges. A barrage of images, graphics, on-screen text, pictures, cartoons, and clips of porn movies put you inside Daniela’s blog, immersed in her virtual world of instant messages, blog comments, emails, and anonymous encounters. It’s a coming-of-age story that deals with female sexuality in a frank way that’s rarely seen in film.
Director Pablo Larraín’s previous films examined life in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, and here he takes aim at another oppressive force: the Catholic Church. The Club has four members, all priests, who live together in a Church-sponsored home to “purge” themselves of their sins, which include child molestation and kidnapping. With a retired nun to look after them, the men seem willing to live out their days in contrite seclusion. But their penitence is interrupted with the arrival of a crisis counselor, Father Garcia. The Club took home the Jury Grand Prix at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, and was selected to represent Chile for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, but did not receive a nomination.
El verano de los peces voladores
Director Marcela Said sticks to her documentary-making roots in a film that’s more show than tell. The Summer of Flying Fish examines the real-life conflict between Euro-Chilean landowners who greedily protect their “real estate,” and the indigenous Mapuche tribe who look at themselves as belonging to the land. Said populates her world with non-actors who have a real stake in the events that unfold, and she relies on outspoken characters and their age-old hostilities in place of exposition. The end result is a very intimate film that’s just as heartbreaking as it is political.
Taking docufiction hybrid to a radical extreme, Naomi Campbel follows the fictional character of Yermén, who is in fact a very real individual named Paula Dinamarca. Yermén/Paula is a trangender 30-something who works as an over the phone fortune teller and dreams of undergoing an operation to complete her transformation into a woman. In what appears to be a fictional narrative, Yermén enters a television competition in hopes her dream may be realized, and along the way meets an Afro-Descended immigrant who dreams of operating on her nose to look more like Naomi Campbell. The highly aesthetic, cinematic images following Yerméns journey are punctuated by grainy video taken by Paula that documents her day-to-day existence as a transgender woman in one of the poorest communities of Santiago. A meditation on the fluidity of identities, breaking down boundaries both in form and subject.
Available to stream on HBO Go.
Sarah is a child of divorce. She shuttles between her father (now living with his new wife) and her mother (living with her lesbian partner). While her father asks her whether she’s been picked on given her mother’s “sexual choice,” she gets warned at school that she may turn out to be gay given that some of her schoolmates believe it to be hereditary. Amidst custody squabbles and coming-of-age revelations, Rara marks a strong debut by Pepa San Martín.
Like a fairy tale (not the Disney sticky sweet kind but like the Brothers Grimm) where a path of magical things unfolds for its characters but also unfailing leads toward a really wacked out, disturbing ending Machuca’s story unfolds in Allende-era Chile. If you have even the slightest grasp of Latin American history, you know what happens next is not good. But for now, the promise of Allende’s inclusive, socialist government has made the impossible possible: a friendship between two young boys from vastly different circumstances happens because Pedro Machuca, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, has won a scholarship to upper middle-class Gonzalo’s private school. Harassed in the private school by day Machuca and Gonzalo bond. Machuca shows sheltered Gonzalo what life’s like on the other side of the tracks in Santiago. Machuca also shares his friendship with tough girl Silvana and the three make a tight circle doing things any kids their age would do and forming tight bonds across class and race lines. But as we sadly know the coup to come and Pinochet will not let this everyday magic last much longer…
Upon learning of her father’s death, Elena travels back to her home to attend his funeral. His mother attempts to maintain a sense of normality in the household after her husband’s death, but the return of her former son, who now goes by Elena (played by trans actress Daniela Vega), causes an increasingly tense atmosphere that threatens to explode at any minute.
Aquí no ha pasado nada
Available to stream on Netflix.
Reminding us that “affluenza” is not an entirely American concept, Fernández’s film is a fictionalized version of a true story that rocked Chilean headlines in 2014 when Martín Larraín the son of an ex-senator ran over a man and went scot-free while two other people in the vehicle were prosecuted. In Much Ado About Nothing, the film focuses on Vicente (Agustín Silva), a friend of the “Larraín” character in the film whose indifference to the incident paint a scathing picture of the privileged youth in Chile.
Gael García Bernal plays René, an in-demand advertising man working in Chile in the late 1980s. At first refusing to be involved he ends up spearheading the “No” campaign in the 1988 plebiscite that let the Chilean people decide whether or not dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years. Rather than treating this as a political assignment, René ends up looking to advertising and marketing, realizing he just needs to sell “No” as the more attractive alternative even as others see his light touch as flippant in light of how historic the vote would be to the country at large.
“The most important thing is that you guys are responsible for your own lives.” The line comes early in Maite Alberdi’s documentary Los niños (The Grown-Ups). It is directed at a group of students at a Chilean school for people with Down Syndrome. But Ana, Ricardo, Andrés, and Rita aren’t children. Now in their forties, they all still attend the school though now they work in the kitchen as part of the catering department. They spend their days baking treats and sweets. They also attend a class for “Conscious Adults” where they’re learning what it will take for them to live fully independent lives. Alberdi’s documentary follows the day-to-day routine at the school where her subjects grapple with what it might mean to have greater autonomy over their lives.
Violeta se fue a los cielos
Violeta se fue a los cielos is a fractal and non-linear biopic on Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra (played by Francisca Acuña). Jumping from from her childhood in Ñuble to her stay in Communist Poland, tracking her trips to salvage old Chilean folk songs as well as her exhibits at the Louvre, this is an expansive look at one of Chile’s most fascinating artists of the twentieth century.
Nostalgia de la luz
Patricio Guzmán has made a career out of introspective filmmaking projects that serve as both national histories and personal memoirs. Nostalgia for the Light is no different. The dazzling documentary looks back at the country’s storied post-Pinochet history through an interrogation about the Atacama desert and Chile’s seemingly inhospitable landscapes, the very kind that have made it central to astronomic discoveries. The documentary is about two different searches conducted in the Atacama desert: one by astronomers looking for answers about the history of the cosmos, and one by women looking for the remains of loved ones killed by Pinochet’s regime. An impressionistic portrait that features both personal reminiscences as well as informed talking heads discussing archeology and astronomy—not to mention witness accounts of those searching for disappeared family members—Nostalgia for the Light is a powerful reminder of the way histories both personal and national are forever intertwined.
La batalla de Chile
The Battle of Chile is a documentary film directed by the Chilean Patricio Guzman, in three parts: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie (1975), The Coup d’état (1976), Popular Power (1979). It is a chronicle of the political tension in Chile in 1973 and of the violent counter revolution against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. A monumental documentary achievement it is history recorded and understood with the power of the camera.
De Jueves a Domingo
A family road trip frames Dominga Sotomayor’s De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Til Sunday). But the journey to the beach Ana and Fernando had promised their two kids, Lucía and Manuel, slowly becomes a long goodbye. For these parents had already decided to break up but couldn’t deny their children their long-awaited beach trip. In between the claustrophobic feel of the car and the long, lonely roads they travel through, this is a portrait of a family slowly breaking down and apart.
La noche de enfrente
On the verge of a forced retirement, Don Celso, an elderly office worker, begins to relive both real and imagined memories from his life: a trip to the movies as a young boy with Ludwig van Beethoven, listening to tall tales from Long John Silver, a brief stay in a haunted hotel, conversations with a fictional doppelgänger of a real writer, Jean Giono. Stories hide within stories and the thin line between imagination and reality steadily erodes, opening up a marvelous new world of personal remembrance and fantastic melodrama. In this playfully elegiac film, loosely adapted from the fantastical short stories of Chilean writer Hernán del Solar, Raúl Ruiz crafted a final masterwork on his favorite subjects: fiction, history and life itself.
A character study that earned its leading lady, Chilean actress Paulina García the Best Actress award at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival, Gloria is Sebastián Lelio at his humanist best. The film is set in Santiago and centered on Gloria, a free-spirited older woman who is embracing her life as a single woman. Leaving her decade-old divorce behind her, she ends up going to singles nights where she meets Rodolfo. The two begin a whirlwind affair complicated by Rodolfo’s close relationship with his grown-up daughters: where she’s untethered, he’s strapped down. But ultimately, Lelio’s dizzying and dazzling film is about what it means to find yourself by yourself, no matter your age.