Latino Films of the Decade 4-1
4. Amores Perros
Before taking on the roles of co-writer, producer and director of the 2006 Oscar winning film “Babel”, The multi talented Alejandro González Iñárritu had this gem “Amores Perros (Love is a B***h)”. Again not a film for all but made with a grasp of multi-faceted characters and crossing storylines that win awards.
Three interconnected stories about life in Mexico City all resolve with a fatal car accident. Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is trying to raise enough money to run away with his sister-in-law, and decides to enter his dog Cofi into the world of dogfighting.
After a dogfight goes bad, Octavio flees in his car, running a red light and causing the accident. Daniel and Valeria’s new-found bliss is prematurely ended when she loses her leg in the accident. El Chivo is a homeless man who cares for stray dogs and is there to witness the collision.
It reminded me of Quentin Taratino’s “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” combined with the valor and quiet strength of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.”
3. City of God
Tragedy, young love, ambition, vengeance, betrayal and danger of death in the lives of teenagers in the favelas of Rio de Janiero in the film The City of God. Director Fernando Meirelles hired co-director Katia Lund, a filmmaker who had previously shot in the favelas to assist his narration. The film is adapted by Braulio Mantovani from the novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, who lived in the City of God housing project for 30 years and researched his story for 10 more.
The violence in this film reminds you that people live this way and have been since the 1960’s. In order to educate and entertain the audience we are introduced to Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) a teen with aspirations of becoming a photographer. Rocket’s nemesis is Lil Ze a murderous thug who continues a violent spree for control and fame in the neighborhood.
But it is in the hope, love and friendships that are built through the film that leave the lasting impressions.
Also while I had heard of this film I hadn’t seen it until after watching “I am Legend” in which actress Alice Braga starred alongside Will Smith.
2. Sin Nombre
After spending the summer of 2009 watching mindless explosion-fests many of which were letdowns. Subjugating ourselves into watching “Sin Nombre” my number one film of 2009 and number two of the decade has restored my faith in film.
Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga in his feature film debut which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. He spent five years of his life researching and streamlining all the incidents that happen in the film.
Sin Nombre tells the story of Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran teenager that seeks to be reunited with her father and his new life in the Untied States.
Edgar Flores’ character who goes by the street name “Casper” is in one of the toughest gangs in South America. At first he is a loyal participant but an incident with a girl he has fallen in love with changes everything for the worse. The relationship between Casper and the gang leader Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) changes in a heartbeat and his life is in peril from that moment.
As luck would have it Casper and Sayra meet under harsh circumstances that makes their voyage to the Untied States dangerous and unpredictable. The movie has shocking moments, strong characters and striking visuals.
Strangely enough “Sin Nombre”, “City of God” and “Slumdog Millionaire” are being accused only exploiting the people they are representing on screen. While great stories do come from tragedy it seems unfair to catagorize these films only as exploitation films. If filmmakers give up on testing the boundaries of an objective story over stylized content all we’ll have left is mindless, special effects films with no heart.
1. Maria Full of Grace
While some of the previous movies won more awards “Maria Full of Grace” (2004) is our number one for a variety of reasons. This drama presents the unique task of bringing a face to the people that are desperate enough jeopardize their own life just to earn a pittance of money compared to those in control.
The story starts in a small village in Colombia, a pregnant seventeen year-old Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) supports her family with her salary. She is fired and with a total lack of perspective of finding a new job, she decides to accept the offer to work as a drug mule, flying to USA with sixty-two pellets in her stomach. Once in New York, things do not happen as planned.
It is Catalina Sandino Moreno that brings truth and woefullness to her character Maria but never pity or self conscience. She took acting classes at a Bogotá,Colombia theater before getting “discovered” for this role. She was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role by the Oscars in 2005.
Writer and director Joshua Marston has been quoted as saying “About a year into the process, I realized that aside from making the film about a girl who lived very far away, I was making a film about a girl who was doing something universal in trying to figure out the meaning of her life.” (IMDB) and that is something everyone faces at some moment in their lives. While I am not naive enough to believe every circumstance in real life is played out like the film there is always a choice.
All of these films are available on DVD they may be hard to find but like any treasure the reward is worth it.
Thanks to IMDB, RottenTomatoes.com, Netflix and Wikipedia.