Title:Camila Released:1984 Director: María Luisa Bemberg
Based on a true story during the Juan Manuel de Rosas dictatorship of Argentina, Camila is a story of scandal, love and politics. The story takes place in 1848, when the young wealthy socialite Camila O'Gorman falls in love with Jesuit priest Father Gutiérrez.
After a secret affair, the couple changes their identities and moves to Corrientes, where they hope to start over and forget about the past. Meanwhile, their story has spread from Santiago to Montevideo and when the couple's true identity is discovered, they are at the mercy of the dictatorship.
Cocalero is a 2007 documentary about current president of Bolivia Evo Morales and his campaign leading up to the presidency. The first president of Bolivia with indigenous roots, Evo rose to power through his involvement with Cocaleros, or unions of farmers that grow and harvest coca leaves. The documentary follows Evo and staff working on his campaign as well as the lives of coca farmers.
There were several interesting aspects of the movie, including the local perspective about the coca leaf, a sacred element of Andean societies that the US has made it a point to eradicate to avoid its processed derivative cocaine from ending up in its major cities.
Although overall worthwhile, this 94 minute documentary could have been half the time and been more effective, editing scenes like a man falling asleep while his wife figures out how to use a calculator or Evo Morales's second haircut.
Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, reunited after Y Tu Mama También, are brothers who live in a rural Mexican town harvesting bananas. Rudo (Luna) spends his free time gambling and losing his wife's blender (licuadora) while Cursi's (Bernal) passion is music, which he sees as his true calling. Both brothers play soccer, and are discovered by an Argentine talent scout named Batuta who take them to DF to try out for division one teams.
Rudo y Cursi is a great story of sibling rivalry, pursuing dreams, and adjusting to success. The acting and storyline are well-done, and is the quality you would expect from a film put together by three greats: Carlos Cuarón (y tu mamá también), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros), and Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth).
Title:Amores Perros (Love's a Bitch) Released:2000
From director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amores Perros is an extremely well-made movie from Mexico. The first scene indicates that this movie isn't going to be easy to watch: the film opens with a car chase scene, rushing to the hospital to save a dog that's bleeding to death. While on the surface the movie is about dog-fighting, it also weaves together three stories, while providing a social commentary about life in Mexico at all levels of society.
Amores Perros doesn't provide an escape from reality as many films do, but rather dives into it. Many scenes use rough camera-work, florescent lighting, and show characters as they are, like the arranger of dog fights who is fat, sweaty and scratching himself. Even Gael García Bernal (Octavio) looks like an average guy in this movie.
This quirky Spanish film centers around a tapas bar in a tranquilo suburb of Barcelona. Although the storyline is not full of action, you do get to meet some great characters who form unlikely relationships, like the bully tapas bar owner who hires a Chinese immigrant with a passion for cooking and a perfect command of Spanish or the young grocery store worker Cesar who falls for the owner of the neighborhood deli who is twice his age.
The film is also about secrets in love and life and coming to terms with them, like the drug-dealing grandma grappling with her husband's cancer diagnosis or the tapas bar owner understanding why his wife may have left him.
I imagine anyone who has spent time living in Spain would love this film for pointing out the subtle idiosyncrasies of Spanish culture.
Sugar is the story of Dominican baseball player Miguel "Sugar" Santos pursuing the American dream which, the film shows, is not always as it seems. Sugar opens at a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic, a springboard for recruiting the best players to play for US teams. Sugar is recruited to a small town in Iowa where he works both to prove himself as a great player but also to adjust to his new surrounds despite cultural differences and a language-barrier. This textured American-dream story includes many funny moments, like newly arrived players ordering French toast for every meal since it's the only thing they know how to order. It also explores the struggles involved in following a dream and what it takes to make it.
Sin Nombre is not an easy movie to watch. One of the first scenes shows the initiation of twelve-year-old Smiley into gang Mara Salvatrucha by men with their faces covered in tattoos in southern Mexico.
Smiley's macabre story intersects with a more hopeful story of a Honduran family at the dawn of their immigrant journey to the United States. The film exposes the dangers of the trip including crossing the Mexican border and shows what lengths people will go to for a better life.
The film illuminates gang culture from the inside as well as highlighting the dangerous reality of immigration. Sin Nombre blends Hollywood gangster movies like Goodfellas and New Jack City with classic immigration story El Norte, a favorite film of high school Spanish teachers. I'll certainly be thinking about this movie for quite some time.
This racy film out of Mexico from director Alfonso Cuarón was one of Mexico's greats and was extremely well-received internationally. The story recounts the coming-of-age of the film's two young protagonists: Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), who were recently reunited in 2009 film Rudo y Cursi.
The basic plot is a road trip from DF to Boca de Cielo, a beach Tenoch and Julio have invented to invite Luisa, a thirtysomething Spaniard who happens to be married to Tenoch's philandering cousin.
A common theme in Bella is the power one moment has to change your life and that mistakes can often find redemption. The film is only partially in Spanish, mimicking the lives of immigrants living in New York City existing between their own culture and the American melting pot. The story is about an unlikely friendship between a former soccer star after losing his glory and a waitress at a crossroads.
Despite the awards Bella won and several positive reviews I read, I felt the film was mediocre plus didn't give much of an opportunity to practice Spanish.
Laura returns to the orphanage where she grew up with her adopted son Simón and husband Carlos, with the dream of turning it into a home for special needs kids. The historic orphanage is a picturesque place to raise a child, near the ocean and full of good memories of Laura's own childhood. Laura and Carlos struggle with whether to tell Simón about his adoption and the fact that he is HIV positive, especially as they see Simón going through a difficult stage full of imaginary friends.
The mix of fantasy and reality in El Orfanato is as masterfully done as Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, and is one of the eeriest films I've seen of late.
Language Learning Notes
The accents are all from Spain, and are relatively easy to understand (although better with subtitles in Spanish).