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12th March 2021

International Cinema: Spain and Latin America

Our contributors picked their favourite films from Spain and Latin America in the third instalment of the International Cinema series
International Cinema: Spain and Latin America
Photo: Thomas Shahan @ wikimedia commons

After covering Asian and French and Italian films we come back with the third part of our International Cinema series, and this time we picked our favourite films from Spain and Latin America. From stories of drug trafficking and crime to deeply human dramas, everyone will be able to find something for themselves.

Birds of Passage (2018) – James McCafferty

In many ways, Birds of Passage is a typical crime story about the moral corruption of being involved in the drug trade and how it haunts those at its centre. Rapayet, a member of the indigenous Wayuu people of northern Colombia, is the film’s protagonist and it follows his story over the period of a decade. Despite the seemingly familiar narrative, Birds of Passage is a profoundly original work. 

From the soundtrack to the cinematography, directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego create a rich and diverse texture to the film that enhances the sense of being immersed in the time and place of the story. By utilising the conventions of genre to manipulate the familiar into something completely new, they create a masterpiece of modern cinema.

Monos (2019) – Jonny Hosking

Set in the abandoned Colombian mountains, a group of militant teenagers try to hold on to remnants of their humanity in this haunting and gripping film.

Written and directed by Alejandro Landes, Monos cascades from high above the clouds to the depths of the dark jungle below. The teenagers fight, love, and kill in order to show their devotion to an unknown, egregious cause.

Jasper Wolf’s stark cinematography and Mica Levi’s pulsating score shift the film’s already enthralling narrative into a whole new realm. Utilising themes and visuals from such works as Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the film explores the depths of the human condition when law and order become relics of the past.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) – Ennis Barnett

If you’re looking for the ultimate road trip movie, The Motorcycle Diaries is the movie to watch! It follows the early life of Che Guevara and his journey across South America where we see the roots and motivations behind his activism. Juan Garcia Bernal delivers an exquisite performance of Guevara by creating an empathetic, imperfect, and provocative portrait of arguably one of the most iconic and influential figures of the 21st century.

This is an incredibly inspiring watch will surely give you urge to jump on a motorbike to discover yourself and the world around you. Additionally, the cinematography is absolutely stunning as it exposes the striking beauty of the South American landscape.

Volver (2006) – Freddie Johnson

There is a lot to love about Volver. The balance of colours, the juxtaposition of modern and traditional Spain, and the fantastic performances from the entire cast. But two elements tower above the rest of the film. 

The first is Penelope Cruz’s confident and well-judged performance that speaks of a strong bond between a great actor and their director (Volver is the third Cruz’s collaboration with Pedro Almodóvar). Her performance carries the audience through the melodrama of the story, ensuring every emotional beat lands where it should. 

The second is the writing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man write female characters as naturally as they appear here; and they are wonderfully realised by the cast. It is a dense plot, like a strange city of narrow, twisting streets, yet the script remains as airy as the village at the centre of the drama.

It is a film that beckons you back.

Y tu mamá también (2001) – Michal Wasilewski

Y tu mamá también is one of two Mexican masterpieces by Alfonso Cuarón (alongside Roma), capturing the essence of the country’s culture, society, and politics. What makes it truly stand out though is its youthful playfulness and an unforgettably dynamic character. We follow two teenage best friends, Julio and Tenoch, who embark on a journey with an older woman that they both fancy. As they drive through socially divided landscapes of rural Mexico, their journey of self-discovery takes place simultaneously.

The film explores the boundaries between friendship and love pushing them to absolute limits and testing the nature of human connections and relationships. A road trip movie like no other and a coming-of-age gem showing the essence of adolescent uncertainties.

Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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