Must-See Latin American Films

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Picture this: you’ve completed your TEFL certificate and have just landed your dream job teaching in a small town in Brazil. You have never been to Brazil before, let alone South America. Yes, you may have briefly learned about South American countries in your world history classes in your previous years of education, but that alone is not enough.

When travelling abroad, it’s important to understand at least some of the basic languages in order to communicate effectively. But another important component is understanding a bit of the country’s cultural and artistic roots. Whether it be by reading up on their popular literature or watching a documentary about key cultural events in history, being familiar with your destination’s cultural and social life can make your experience all the more fulfilling.

Getting yourself familiarized with the culture is crucial to anyone travelling or teaching abroad, and here is our list of must-see Latin American films before you visit. They cover a range of topics including documentaries, dramas, and comedies.

el Salvador

1. No (2012)

Directed by Pablo Larrain and released in 2012, No is a film set in Chile during their 1988 plebiscite, a national referendum to determine whether Chile’s de facto leader, Augusto Pinochet, should extend his rule for another eight years.

The story follows Rene, an advertising consultant who was approached by the “No” side to work on their campaign. Rene has to struggle to keep his involvement a secret, as his boss is the one who ends up landing the role to lead the “Yes” campaign.

The film unfolds as each night, both sides receive 15 minutes of airtime on national television to present their case. Rene’s marketing approach is similar to that of the American Cola Wars. It is lighthearted and promotes a sense of togetherness, while the “Yes” side depicts Pinochet’s leadership as an economic success.

No is an epic story about Chile’s history and how one ad campaign helped persuade Chileans to defeat an extremely oppressive dictatorship. Although it is fictionalized, viewers can still learn a lot about Chile’s political history. It is a story of hope that a nation can overcome even the worst circumstances.

Watch Now on Prime Video.

2. Jungle (2017)

Based on the novel by Yossi Ghinsberg, Jungle is a biographical survival film released in 2017. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe and is based on the true story of Ghinsberg’s 1981 journey into the Amazon rainforest.

Although the film is not directed by a South American native, the film depicts the adventurous spirit of Yossi as he travels to Bolivia. After befriending Swiss teacher, Marcus Stamm, and American photographer, Keven Gale, they set off on an expedition into the wild Amazon. Led by Karl Ruprechter, an Austrian on a mission to find hidden gold, the three embark on a journey that does not go according to plan.

As the three take on the harsh and unforgiving terrain of the Amazon rainforest, getting separated and forced to do whatever they can to stay alive, the film does an excellent job of showcasing Yossi’s story of bravery and determination. Not only is the film a testament to the psychological and physical struggles man can overcome, but it is also a story of camaraderie and inspiration. Yossi is an embodiment of the free-spirited, adventurous dreamer that is inside all of us.

The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest at roughly 2.72 million square acres. That is nearly equivalent to 48 states in the U.S, covering about 40 per cent of the South American continent. It is such a huge part of so many South American countries’ cultures, with the rainfall and river feeding regions that generate 70 per cent of South America’s GDP. Learning a bit about its origins would definitely be beneficial before you set out on your travelling abroad adventure!

Watch Now on Amazon Prime.

cameroon

3. Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Released in 2004 and directed by Brazilian Walter Salles, Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta) is a biopic about the 1952 journey and written memoirs of the 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara. Several years later, he would become well known as Che Guevara, the infamous Marxist guerilla leader.

Not only is this a story that reveals the injustices of social classes and the political structures of Latin America, but it is also a coming-of-age film packed with adventure and excitement. Guevara and his friend Alberto originally begin their trip across South America by motorcycle, but they hit many obstacles along the way.

As a young man, Guevara finds himself physically called to action to do more for the impoverished and struggling indigenous peoples. These two men are faced with injustices that they never would have been exposed to. Their journey sparks the flame of radicalization and cognitive dissonance in Guevara.

The film is based on the real journals of Che Guevara, as he recounts his adventures with his friends and the early beginnings of what would cause him to become the leader of the Cuban Revolution.

Guevara’s encounters with social injustice transform his life and motivate him to become a revolutionary and fight for change. The two friends journey across Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela until finally reaching their destination at a medical residency at a leper colony.

The film is a must-see for those travelling abroad to South America in the hopes of both finding themselves and pursuing their goals, no matter how far-fetched or extraordinary. It is a great take on exploring the injustices of Latin America’s cultural, social, and political injustices.

Watch on various streaming services here.

chile

4.  The Maid (2009)

A nice combination of drama and light-hearted comedy, The Maid is a film that follows Raquel, a maid who has been serving a wealthy Chilean family, the Valdes, for more than two decades.

When Raquel’s health begins to suffer due to years of exposure to harmful cleaning chemicals, the family decides to hire additional maids to assist her.

However, Raquel takes this as an extreme sign of disrespect and engages in multiple attempts to oust every new maid that enters the house. The film reflects the relationship between hired help and employers in South America, as they are grossly underpaid, undervalued, and frequently at the tail end of jokes in movies.

Through this comedic drama, viewers are able to understand more about family dynamics and class structure in South American countries. The “help” is expected to be on call all hours of the day for their employers, all in exchange for a room to sleep and a dreadful wage. Add this to your list before travelling abroad!

Watch Now on Tubi or Prime Video.

5.  The Year my Parents Went on Vacation (2006)

Released in 2006 in Portuguese by director Cao Hamburger, this film follows the story of Mauro, a 12-year-old boy who is sent to live with his godfather in 1970. His parents are political left-wing activists who are on the run from the politically repressive Brazilian government.

Amidst the country’s fear of political persecution, they are also dealing with their enthusiasm for the upcoming World Cup. Unfortunately, Mauro’s grandfather dies shortly after he arrives, and he is left alone in Bom Retiro, a working-class Jewish neighbourhood. Shlomo, an elderly religious Jew and neighbour of Mauro’s grandfather, takes him in and the entire community supports him while he struggles with the departure of his parents.

The film follows Mauro as he searches for his identity and learns to accept help from others, even the most unsuspecting of people. As the Brazilian football team gets closer to bringing home the World Cup, Mauro continues to struggle with the absence of his parents.

The film is an inspiring tale about the importance of community and self-discovery. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons of the film is that the act of waiting is never stagnant, it is always developing and changing. New opportunities and relationships can arrive at any moment, and one can really find themselves along the way.

Mauro’s story is one of hope and acceptance. Oftentimes one’s hopes are not always achieved in the ways previously anticipated. This inspiring tale is a must-watch for those travelling abroad.

Buy on DVD here.

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