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Latin American Movies

A Useful and Entertaining Way to Prepare for a Visit

A woman weaving in Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala


Shucking corn in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Movies present a vivid feeling for a destination and its culture. Whether you read every line of subtitles or just follow the dialogue, you inevitably absorb new figures of speech, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

Feature films in Spanish are available for rent in any local video store, and libraries often loan them for free. For particularly hard-to-find movies, many libraries are able to borrow materials through interlibrary loans. Internet DVD rental companies such as Netflix also carry a good selection of movies in Spanish.

The following Latin American films represent a cross-section of popular destinations for language immersion and cultural programs and make strong statements about their country’s history, politics, and culture. All are in Spanish with English subtitles unless otherwise indicated. When a film has both an English and a Spanish title, the title most commonly used for the English-subtitled version is listed first, followed by the translated title.

Argentina

Don Segundo Sombra (1969). A teenage boy is mentored by a nomadic cowhand in this solemn mediation on gaucho life in the Argentine pampas.
The Official Story/La Historia Oficial (1985). In questioning the origins of her adopted daughter an affluent woman awakens to the systematic human rights abuses of her government.
Veronico Cruz/La Deuda Interna (1988). In the remote highlands of an indigenous village, a teacher befriends an orphaned student during the 1970s political witchhunts.
Tango Bar (1988). An expatriate tango singer returns to Buenos Aires to face his musical and emotional past in a lush primer on the intersection of politics and the Argentinean national dance.

Chile

Dance of Hope (1989). Against the convulsive backdrop of the 1988 referendum on Pinochet’s continued presidency, this documentary interviews women pressing the Pinochet regime for information about their “disappeared” husbands and family members.

Cuba

I Am Cuba/Soy Cuba (1964; in Russian and Spanish). Vignettes from the lives of a student revolutionary, a bar hostess, a sugarcane worker, and a rural guerrilla paint a picture of Cuba’s ills under the Batista government.
Portrait of Teresa/ Retrato de Teresa (1979). A young woman confronts the difficulties of “women’s work” in post-revolutionary Cuba when her traditional husband resents her growing independence.
Strawberry and Chocolate/ Fresa y Chocolate (1993). Drawn into the life of a freethinking gay cultural worker, a naive university student questions his political allegiances and preconceptions.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999, in English and Spanish). An American music producer goes to Havana to memorialize the rhythm of Cuba’s musical golden age; his documentary introduces the personalities behind the best-selling album.

Guatemala

El Norte (1984). An indigenous brother and sister make a perilous journey to the U.S. after the murder of their family.
The Silence of Neto/El Silencio de Neto (1994). A young middle-class boy comes of age during the 1954 CIA-backed coup.
Men with Guns/Hombres Armados (1998). An aging doctor embarks on a journey to locate his former students. When he witnesses atrocities wreaked on rural communities, he becomes conscious of the raging civil war he has never had to acknowledge. The Latin American country—with its themes of racism, colonialism, and redemption—is not identified. But the scorched earth and intimidation strategies of the military, forced relocation camps presented as “model villages,” and the atrocities committed against a predominantly indigenous population clearly allude to Guatemala in the 1980s.

Mexico

• Canoa (1975). During the student uprising of 1968 a group of university employees on a weekend trip are mistaken for Communist, with deadly results.
A Place Called Chiapas: Eight Months Inside the Zapatista Uprising (1998; English narration, Spanish dialogue with English subtitles). A riveting on-the-ground documentary of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, with highlights from the 1996 jungle encuentro.
Back and Forth/De Ida y Vuelta (2000). Returning home after three years of working across the border, a young man finds discord in the life he left behind.
Blossoms of Fire/Ramo de Fuego (2000; minimal English narration, Spanish and Zapotec dialogue with English subtitles). An intimate documentary about the matriarchal Oaxacan city of Juchitán explores the mutual respect between the sexes and the community’s acceptance of homosexuality.
The Last Zapatistas: Forgotten Heroes/Los Últimos Zapatistas: Héroes Olvidados (2001). Oral histories from surviving Zapatistas of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Peru

The Green Wall/La Muralla Verde (1970). A young family trades comfortable city life for a homestead in the Amazon jungle, but finds that entrenched bureaucracy can be more dangerous than nature.
La Boca del Lobo/The Lion’s Den (1988). Stationed in a small town surrounded by unseen Shining Path guerrillas, an ambitious young soldier wrestles with his conscience and his duty.

More Resources

• The Internet Movie Database is an excellent place to find movie titles by country of origin: www.imdb.com.
• Netflix, a company that rents as many DVDs and online movies as you want for a small monthly fee.

 
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