The same year that the category rebranded itself as “Best International Feature Film,” the sole Oscar category that singles out global cinema attracted a record number of submissions. Ahead of the 92nd Academy Awards, 93 countries submitted films vying for that coveted golden statue. As usual, there are buzzy titles all around (including Pedro Almodóvar’s Dolor y gloria) and if history is to be any indication, we’ll hopefully see at least one lucky Latin American filmmaker in the mix the year after Alfonso Cuarón all but dominated the proceedings.
In the past decade alone, Latin American projects have nabbed 8 nominations and three wins: 2009’s El secreto de sus ojos (Argentina), 2017’s Una mujer fantástica (Chile) and, just last year, Roma (Mexico). Hoping to join that enviable canon are 16 feature films that hail from all over the continent, and even include a European submission from a Belgian-Guatemalan filmmaker. From a war drama in the Amazon and a queer family melodrama in the Andes to character studies on hotel maids, translators and money launderers, this year’s roster is brimming with the best the region has to offer.
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 the Oscar nominations.
From all eligible movies, ten will be announced in mid-December as part of the shortlist. From that list, Academy members will vote and select five as the official nominees. Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards are announced on January 13, 2020.
La odisea de los giles
The year is 2001, and Argentina is hitting the lowest point in its great depression. His glory days far behind him, retired soccer star Fermín (Ricardo Darín) now runs a service station in a sleepy provincial town. Hoping to pull his family and their community out of decline, Fermín seeks to convert some abandoned grain silos into a viable storage facility. He convinces friends to invest in the cooperative, but is railroaded by a conniving bank manager into placing their cash into a savings account just as the banks are about to be frozen by the government, rendering their money useless and their plans quashed. For a time things seem only to get worse, until rumors spread of a secret depository containing the cooperative’s pilfered cash and much, much more. With Fermín as their Robin Hood-esque leader, the group conspires to infiltrate the cache, but it’s going to take some serious resolve, a little inspiration, and a lot of luck to pull off this honest-person heist.
César Díaz’s Nuestras madres follows Ernesto, a young anthropologist working for the Forensic Foundation whose mission is to identify those who disappeared during the Civil War. One day while listening to an old woman tell her story, he thinks he’s found a clue which could take him to his father, a guerrilla fighter who also disappeared during that period. Against his mother’s wishes, he throws himself body and soul into the case with the aim of learning the truth. Powerfully grounding this historical trauma in a family drama, the Belgian-Guatemalan director’s film offers a chilly portrait of a country left numbed by violence and silence.
Read Remezcla’s review.
Tu me manques
SUBMITTED BY BOLIVIA
Starring Argentine actor Oscar Martinez and Spanish actress (and Pedro Almodóvar muse) Rossy de Palma, Tu Me Manques is an emotional exploration of three men’s struggles to reconcile identity and heritage. Following his son Gabriel’s death, Jorge travels from conservative Bolivia to New York City to confront Gabriel’s boyfriend Sebastian. While the two battle over Jorge’s inability to accept his son, Sebastian channels his grief into a bold new play in honor of his lost love, in which Gabriel’s inner turmoil is transformed into an eye-popping gay fantasia. Directed by Rodrigo Bellot, the film in itself is an adaptation of his own stage play, a sensation in his native Bolivia.
Read Remezcla’s review.
SUBMITTED BY CHILE
Shadows of the political past loom ominously over the present in this eerily resonant thriller from veteran Chilean director Andrés Wood (Machuca). Written by Wood and Guillermo Calderón, Araña (Spider) is both a tension-filled entertainment and a potent cautionary tale. In the early 1970s, Inés (María Valverde), her husband Justo (Gabriel Urzúa), and their best friend Gerardo (Pedro Fontaine) are part of a militant right-wing nationalist group determined to overthrow Salvador Allende’s Marxist government. In the intervening decades, Pinochet’s oppressive regime comes and goes, democracy in Chile is restored, and Allende becomes a martyr. Now, 40 years later, Inés (La ciénaga’s Mercedes Morán) and Justo (Felipe Armas) have become affluent, respected businesspeople, happy to keep their youthful radicalism buried in a historical moment almost no one wants to excavate. But Gerardo (Marcelo Alonso) has held onto his life-or-death convictions. When he is arrested for murder and police discover an arsenal in his house, his case inevitably implicates his one-time allies, but Inés and Justo will do anything to keep Gerardo from exposing their shared past.
A vida invisível de Eurídice Gusmão
SUBMITTED BY BRAZIL
From prolific Brazilian auteur Karim Aïnouz and set in midcentury Rio de Janeiro, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is a sprawling melodrama about feminine resilience. Based on Martha Batalha’s beloved novel, Aïnouz’s most accessible work retains the unfettered sensuality and sumptuous splendor that render all his films so uniquely captivating. The year is 1950. Classical piano prodigy Eurídice (Carol Duarte) dreams of studying at the Vienna Conservatory. Her sister Guida (Julia Stockler), however, is the first of the siblings to make it to Europe, albeit fleetingly. After having eloped with a Greek sailor, Guida soon returns to Rio de Janeiro pregnant and alone, unbeknown to Eurídice. Kept apart by a terrible lie, years pass as the two sisters forge their respective paths through their city’s teeming bustle, each believing the other to be half a world away. Complementing the seductively saturated hues of the cinematography by Hélène Louvart, the film’s soundtrack features a soulful score from Benedikt Schiefer coupled with a poignant voice-over duet consisting of the sisters’ misaddressed missives. Culminating in an affecting cameo from Oscar nominee Fernanda Montenegro, Aïnouz’s stirring epic of winding paths, that fail to intersect, balances cruel irony — the black sheep finds herself truly seen, while the ostensibly good daughter becomes invisible — with carnal abandon and tenacious love.
Read Remezcla’s review.
SUBMITTED BY COLOMBIA
Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like Rambo, Wolf, Lady, and Bigfoot, occupies a derelict ruin atop a remote mountain where they train themselves, watch over a “conscripted” milk cow, and hold hostage a kidnapped American engineer, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). But after an attack forces them to abandon their base, playtime is over for the motley young crew. The visionary third feature of Alejandro Landes (Cocalero, Porfirio), Monos captivates us with its striking baroque aesthetic, otherworldly setting, and ingenious reframing of the war film—one that uses adolescence to insinuate a youthful but elusive dream of peace. With enthralling performances from Nicholson and a talented young ensemble led by Moises Arias, Landes constructs a stylized, deceptively surreal space that teeters between tedium and hedonism, made more unsettling by its disquieting soundscape and Mica Levi’s brilliant score.
El despertar de las hormigas
For thoughtful, demure young housewife Isa (Daniella Valenciano), life in a lush, postcard-perfect Costa Rican seaside village is far from being anyone’s idea of a dream. Pressured by her intrusive and loudly opinionated in-laws to have another baby even as her already cramped household struggles to stay afloat, and tending to the needs of her husband and two daughters while her own desires remain distant and ignored, Isa finds herself suffocated by rigid gender roles and the cloistered, provincial thinking that comes with small-town life. Desperately imagining some other way of living—single, childless, desired—while growing increasingly tense and angry towards those closest to her, Isa unexpectedly becomes more attuned to the natural world and its strangeness, as increasingly vivid and at times surreal dreams and visions take over her waking life, blurring the line between what is and what can be. Soon the young mother finds herself at a breaking point, awakening to her own long-suppressed sexuality and the possibilities of a life lived on her own terms, in this engrossing and intimate feature debut from writer/director Antonella Sudasassi Furniss.
Read Remezcla’s review.
SUBMITTED BY CUBA
In 1989 Havana, Russian literature professor Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) gets a mysterious note at the university with orders from the government sending him to a local hospital, where he learns he is expected to act as translator between the Cuban doctors and the families of young patients from the Chernobyl disaster. Initially raging against his new role, Malin is forced to stay on, and he eventually becomes deeply devoted to his patients. But while he becomes “king of the kids” at the hospital, his relationships with his pregnant wife and young son suffer. Meanwhile, life around all of them shifts as the “Special Period”—the economic crisis in Cuba that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union—begins. Rooted in the little-known true story of how twenty thousand Chernobyl victims were eventually treated in Cuba, Un Traductor immerses an emotional drama in crisply shot, beautifully realized period detail of Havana in 1989.
SUBMITTED BY THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
In The Projectionist, Eliseo (Félix Germán) is confined to live his existence infatuated with a woman who is present only through a projected film reel. On an eventful night, the reels are damaged and Eliseo is left completely devoid of any connection with his beloved projection. In this new existence, he is plunged into a search for the real identity of the woman he so passionately and lustfully loved for so many years but in order to accomplish this journey he must appeal to all he knows, project movies, in the most remote and poorest areas in the Dominican Republic, accompanied by a free-spirited girl that will show him that blood is thicker than water in more ways than one.
La mala noche
Dana (Nöelle Schönwald), a smart and beautiful woman resorts to prostitution to make a living. She must deliver most of her income to a mafia boss, who protects and exploits her. She’s good at what she does, a job she landed by mistake, out of love. Perhaps, if she behaves well enough, she might get her freedom, but her daughter’s illness and addiction to a pharmaceutical drug will prevent her from reaching her goals. An unexpected incident will give her the opportunity to break free from her captor and seek justice with her own hands.
Café con sabor a mi tierra
Inspired by a true story, this drama follows a family who cultivates coffee. Due to a drop in coffee prices and other problems, their harvest does not yield the profits it once did. In a effort to survive the downturn, they turn to migration as an option to safe their farm. But yet, this will not be their biggest obstacle to overcome, as a death will test their family bond. It’s a drama that looks at the great sacrifice that goes into producing a cup of coffee that is then consumed around the world.
SUBMITTED BY MEXICO
Eve (Gabriela Cartol) works long hours as a maid at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. A young, single mother who travels far to get to her place of work, Eve has aspirations for the future and hopes that her diligence will get her a coveted spot as the cleaner on an executive floor. She enrolls in the hotel’s adult education program in her quest for a better life but quickly discovers that it’s not necessarily the most hard-working who get noticed for advancement. The Chambermaid, Lila Avilés’s striking debut, employs a quasi-documentary approach as it accompanies Eve on her daily routine. She quietly enters one indistinguishable guest room after another and we are struck by the intimacy behind the act of cleaning a stranger’s mess. The disparity between the guests and those working at the hotel — who often do not have hot water in their own homes — accurately reflects the reality in many Latin American countries.
The Ponce family is the perfect family that lives in the quiet mountain town of Bambito, Panama. Federico (Arantxa de Juan) is a successful father. Carol (Gaby Gnazzo) is the loving mother of three wonderful children. Despite perfect appearances, Federico and Carol share a secret: when they have a date night, they are accompanied by Lizzie – a fun and confident woman who is actually Federico dressed up as a woman. What perhaps began as a fun game, soon becomes Federico’s struggle to keep his family together and save his own life when he chooses to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand.
As his name suggests, fourteen year-old Segundo Paucar (Junior Behar) is his father Noé’s (Amiel Cayo) most devoted apprentice. Together, they craft intricate storyboxes—consisting of a cabinet, hand-painted figurines, and a lot of heart—for Peruvian families. Upon discovering his father with another man, Segundo struggles to accept his father’s delicate touch and its beautiful byproducts. With this award-winning debut feature, Alvaro Delgado Aparicio emphasizes his devotion to the touching and fraught power structure that afflicts fathers and sons. In Retablo, patience in art and relationships might be tragically condemned by society, yet they are fiercely rewarded by family.
Así habló el cambista
In the mid-1970s, the South American economy drew many crooks and scoundrels to Uruguay. Institutions were bankrupt. The government was run by the military junta. Subversives were shipped to prison. As the Brazilian and Argentine economies bore great risk and eventually bottomed out with currency devaluations, Uruguay seemed like an ideal place to make money disappear. Here, in Montevideo in 1975, we encounter Federico Veiroj’s strangely sympathetic, oddball protagonist, Humberto Brause (Daniel Hendler), who furiously throws himself into the buying and selling of currency, a rapacious endeavor supported by his father-in-law, a veteran in the business of capital flight. It’s not long before Humberto is consumed by his outsized ambition and compulsive drive, trampling over everything and everyone in his path — except his unflappable, tough-as-nails wife, Gudrun (Dolores Fonzi). When he finally assumes the direction of the family business, Humberto accepts a suspicious assignment: laundering the largest sum of money he’s ever seen.
Ariel is a young religious dressmaker who, after a failed sexual encounter, discovers a secret her family has tried to hide all of her life: she was born intersex but, after corrective surgery, raised as a girl. A decision is now on her horizon: she can either keep living as a socially accepted but oppressed woman or live her life as an intersexual person and face the judgement of society. Venezuelan director Patricia Ortega turns Being Impossible into a careful examination of the tricky territory that comes with figuring out one’s gender identity belatedly.
Read Remezcla’s review.