Once again the record number of countries eager for a shot at Oscar glory has increased. This year, 92 nations submitted movies to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category, among them are 15 features representing Latin America. Last year, the Academy overlooked deserving candidates like Larraín’s Neruda or Venezuela’s From Afar. This time, the competition for the 90th Academy Awards got exponentially tougher with several previous winners and nominees returning, alongside festival favorites who all seek to stand out from the crowd.
From the initial 92 submitted films, nine make it to the shortlist in late December after a small group of Academy members votes on their favorites. Then those nine will be whittled down even more and, on January 23, five films will be announced as nominees. Note that this is one of the toughest categories to receive a nomination in. Even before the nomination process, each country puts together a committee of industry professionals who select just one movie to represent their nation. The national selection committees have made questionable choices in the past, resulting in some Latin American’s best films of the decade being skipped over like Brazil’s Aquarius, Mexico’s Güeros, or Venezuela’s Tamara.
The region’s strongest contender is likely Sebastian Lelio’s Berlin winner A Fantastic Woman starring transgender actress Daniela Vega, which will open theatrically in the US in early 2018. The Dominican Republic premiered a production at Sundance for the first time this year, Woodpeckers by Jose Maria Cabral, and selected it to compete at the Oscars.
Latin America’s strong lineup includes five movies directed or co-directed by women. From master helmer Lucrecia Martel with Zama, to Tatiana Huezo’s Tempestad, for which she became the first woman ever to win the Ariel Award (Mexican Academy Award) for Best Director, and newcomers like Ecuadorian Ana Cristina Barrangán and Panamanian Arianne Benedetti.
Honduras joins the race for the first time with the historical drama Morazán. El Salvador is now the only Latin American country that has never submitted a film for consideration.
Check out the entire list of movies reppin’ for Latin American below.
This long-awaited adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 classic of Latin American modernism transports us to a remote corner of 18th-century South America, where a servant of the Spanish crown slowly loses his grip on reality. Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, the Argentine auteur behind The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman, Zama is that rarest of creative feats: a perfect coupling of literary source material and cinematic sensibility. Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) leads a suspended existence as a sort of upper-tier government clerk in what is now Paraguay. He has not seen his wife and children in years. His relationships with his fellow Europeans are strained due to competition and confusion, while his interactions with the settlement’s Black and Indigenous servants are addled by desire and hostility. Zama’s entire sense of purpose is tied up in the promise that he will soon be delivered to his rightful position in faraway Buenos Aires, but the waiting seems endless. As time passes, Zama’s paranoia and capacity for violence burgeons — while his circumstances become only more precarious.
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.
Tall, dark, and handsome, Julián steps off a bus, hands over his clothes, gets his long curly locks chopped off, and becomes fresh meat walking inside the Najayo Prison in the Dominican Republic. He locates his cellblock underneath the moist corner where the Woodpeckers perch. Woodpeckers—prisoners who romance ladies incarcerated at the women’s prison 150 meters across the way—spend their days in affectionate conversation with their lovers through sign language. When Julián encounters Yanelly, a gorgeous spitfire of a woman, he finds love in the last place he imagined. Now he must find a way, through cement, barbed wire, dozens of guards, and murderous exes to win Yanelly’s love, all the while keeping it secret.
Focused on the violence and impunity that afflicts Mexico, the film is driven by the voices of two women, Miriam and Adela. As we listen to their stories, director Tatiana Huezo offers us beautiful images of the cross-country journey that Miriam took after being released from a cartel-run prison, where she’d been held for her alleged involvement in human trafficking. After no evidence of her participation in trafficking was found, Miriam was eventually let go, becoming instead a public scapegoat for an increasingly common problem in Mexico. Interwoven with the harrowing tale of Miriam’s stay in this torturous environment is the story of Adela, a circus clown, who’s been searching for her abducted daughter who went missing over 10 years ago. Evocative of Terrence Malick, but infused with a staunchly politicized message, Tempestad is both lyrical and political.
Rosa Chumbe has a drinking and gambling problem. Her work as a police officer has hardened and numbed her to the world around her. When her daughter steals her savings and leaves her with her baby grandson, she’ll have to reexamine her life and perhaps soften her outlook in this feature film that shows us the urban world of contemporary Peru.
Based on the story of undefeated two-time World Boxing Champion Edwin Valero, El Inca is a powerhouse biographical drama about talent and charisma, love and ambition, excess and self-destruction. Valero, aka “El Inca,” rose from humble Andean roots to international celebrity by defeating one rival after another — he set a world record by winning his first 18 fights with a first-round knockout. But as Valero’s professional life bloomed, his personal life began to stagger, with insecurities leading to marital infidelities and perilous addiction. These are aspects of Valero’s life that still spark controversy: following a brief, successful theatrical run, the Venezuelan Government removed the film from theaters. El Inca tells of an exhilarating rise, a tragic fall, and the riveting displays of athletic mastery in between.
El sonido de las cosas
Dealing with grief can be a painful and solitary experience. That’s definitely the case for Claudia. She’s just lost her dear cousin and rather than face her absence, the young nurse walls herself off from the world. That is, until she runs into an old friend who’s in need of help. With a muted color palette and an equally restrained central performance El sonido de las cosas is a probing character study of what it means to lose those we are closest to.
Set in the dark confines of Huanuni, a Bolivian mining town, Dark Skull centers on aimless teenager Elder whose father just died. Showing no interest in mourning, Elder spends his time doing drugs and working in the mines with his godfather Francisco. As the details of his father’s death surface, the relationship between Elder and Francisco takes a turn for the worse. Naturalistic performances and eerie low-key lighting enhance the story’s dark tone.
Bingo: O Rei das Manhãs
Based on a real life TV personality, Academy Award nominee, Daniel Rezende’s directorial debut focuses on Augusto, an ambitious entertainer looking to become a household name. His dream becomes a reality when in the 1980s he transforms into Bingo, a clown that’s quickly embraced by children across Brazil. Underneath the colorful makeup; however, Augusto hides many secrets including a estranged relationship with his own son. The fame he desired is hindered by a contract that prohibits him from revealing his real identity, thus making him an anonymous figure.
In rural Colombia, an upcoming wedding and a series of violent deaths set in motion a gripping plot of heartbreak and crime. Mariana is getting ready to marry Rene, but her ex-boyfriend, Wellington, a local truck driver who transports sugar cane. To recover Mariana’s love, stubborn Wellington gets involved with dangerous paramilitary groups. A large sum of money and everyone’s safety is at stake. This performance driven feature by first-time director Iván Gaona goes for visual realism to be more impactful.
Young 11-year-old Alba is the core of this coming-of-age tale that follows her quiet existence as she is forced to reconnect with her father while her mother is in the hospital. The introverted girl has troubled forging meaningful interactions with others. However, the profound loneliness she shares with her father might bring them closer together. Alba’s realist cinematography finds beauty in small moments and entrancing landscapes. The film’s dynamic camera tracks the characters closely through their intimate struggles.
Honduras’ first-ever Oscar submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category honors the life of one of the Central America’s greatest heroes: Francisco Morazán. The historical drama is set in 1842 as Morazán tried to unify the region in order to restore the Central American Republic, a mission that would eventually cost him his life. Costumes, battles, and warm, amber, low-key lighting that resembles candle light, like in every respectable period piece, are at play in one of Honduras’ most ambitious productions ever.
Más que hermanos
Following the tragic death of their parents, young siblings Mia and Joshua are sent to different orphanages. The separation is devastating for both of them, thus Joshua escapes to reunite with his sister. Life on the streets and all its hardship strengthen the bond between the siblings. As adults, Joshua helps Mia get through school and eventually get a scholarship to a prestigious university. Tragedy strikes again, and this time Mia is forced to choose between his brother and the love of his life – an American.
Weaving historical elements about the Paraguayan War into a thrilling storyline, the new film by the directors of Paraguayan sensation 7 Boxes, follows Manu, a paperboy from an impoverished neighborhood who, thanks to his treasure hunter grandfather, discovers a map that might lead him to a valuable find. The pressure of helping his family will push Manu to carry out a plan to get to the site, which is now an embassy. Using both Guarani and Spanish, this high-octane adventure is a more visually polished than Schémboru and Maneglia’s gritty previous effort, but just as engaging.
Otra historia del mundo
In this inventive comedy, amateur history professor Gregorio Esnal tries to use education to reshape the minds of a population that has been indoctrinated by an authoritative regime. Esnal plans to free his friend, Milo Striga, who is a political prisoner, by teaching a different version of World History and turning everyone in the rural town of Mosquitos into his allies. A change from within the minds of people will help foster change at large. Using cutouts and photos that resemble a peculiar variety of animation, Esnal’s history lessons are far from being conventional.