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A Taste of Mexican Cinema: Best Films from the Land of Tequila

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorIf you’re looking to spice up your cinematic experience with a splash of Mexican flair, try out the work of directors Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón or Luis Buñuel. ~ Jonny Sweet
No other Latin American country – with perhaps the exception of Argentina – consistently produces as many classy and compelling films as Mexico.

If you are not already acquainted with the rich variety of movies that have come out of the country, it’s high time you got started.

This list is a short run-down of the Mexican cinema best films I have seen… have a glance over and see if you agree.

7. `El Ángel Exterminador´ (The Exterminating Angel. Luis Buñuel, 1962)

The maverick director Luis Buñuel certainly has his own style, as well as his own cult following.

Though born in Spain, Buñuel spent much of his life in Mexico, where he produced some of his most iconic work, including El Ángel Exterminador, which looks at how feebly upper-class society is held together by respected conventions and what happens when those conventions are taken away.

It is a fascinating and at times humorous exploration into the intricacies of human nature and how civilised we all really are.

Any number of Buñuel films could have made it onto this list; for a more in-depth look at this accomplished director’s catalogue, check out this article.

6. `Amores Perros´ (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)

Iñárritu’s first collaboration with writer Guillermo Arriaga, Amores Perros skilfully interweaves three stories of everyday life in Mexico City with dramatic effects.

The film was also the launch pad for the career of one of Mexico’s most famous acting talents, Gael García Bernal, who turns in a stellar performance as Octavio, a young man in over his head in the murky underworld of dog fighting.

Sometimes translated as Love’s a Bitch, the film deals with the theme of love and specifically how it connects to loss, regret and repentance.

5. `Y Tu Mamá También´ (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

The very next year, Bernal followed up his success in Amores Perros with the hugely popular Y Tu Mamá También.

The story follows two friends (Bernal and Diego Luna) as they go on a road trip with a sultry older woman, who teaches the pair about the ways of life and love and sex.

Ostensibly a raunchy coming-of-age sex romp, the film delves much deeper into what it means to grow up, to lose friends, and mature sexually, spiritually and emotionally.

4. `Temporada de Patos´(Duck Season. Fernando Eimbcke, 2004)

About as close as Mexico gets to indie cinema, Temporada de Patos is a film where almost literally nothing happens.

The plot centres around two adolescent boys left at home by their mother, who get into all sorts of scrapes and shenanigans with the forgotten-about girl-next-door and the put-upon pizza delivery man.

Because of its slow pace and lack of action, Temporada de Patos is not one of the Best mexican Films all time, but it is a heart-warming and life-affirming way to spend a few hours and features a delightful soundtrack.

3. `El Laberinto del Fauno´ (Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo del Toro, 2006)

Though it can be seen as a collaboration of Spanish, Mexican and United States cinema, the fact that the film was chosen as Mexico’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars surely confirms its place among the Mexican canon.

As such, it is most definitely one of the best Mexican movies to watch, regardless of whether or not you are a fan of the genre.

Skirting the lines between drama, fantasy, horror and war, the film takes in a whole host of incredible characters, including a terrifying beast with eyes in his hands, and leaves the viewer with a haunting remembrance. 

2. `Sin Nombre´ (Without a Name, Cary Fukunaga, 2009)

I have already talked about Sin Nombre as being a gangster film in the unconventional sense (i.e. not concerning New York mafia), but it also explores more human themes as well.

A tale of the collision course of two very different lives, the film focuses on El Casper, a gang member disillusioned with the harsh lifestyle he has chosen, and Sayra, a young Honduran girl trying to smuggle herself and her father into the United States.

1. `Biutiful´ (Alejandro González Iñarritu, 2010)

After a fruitful relationship with Guillermo Arriaga which produced the films Amores Perros (2000), Crash (2004) and 21 Grams (2003), Iñárritu directed this film without his long-time collaborator in 2010.

Biutiful is the harrowing story of Uxbal, a man diagnosed with terminal cancer and as such eminently aware of his own impending death, as he seeks to right his previous wrongs, prepare his family financially for his departure and make peace with the world.

Simultaneously, he has to deal with a myriad of other concerns, such as the inconveniences of his illegal businesses, the tetchiness of certain business partners, the instability of his bi-polar spouse and a traumatic experience involving a warehouse.

The film is another Spanish-Mexican venture, and although set in Barcelona, the gritty side of the city that is revealed often reminded me more of Mexico. By exposing the oft-glossed over underbelly of the Spanish city, we are reminded that for every beautiful (or biutiful) façade, there is an uglier truth lurking.

Javier Bardem delivers the performance of his life and the writing, mood and pace are flawless throughout.

Quite simply, one of the most powerful movies I have seen in recent memory.


Y tú, Amigo?

Seen any or all of my picks? Agree or disagree with their merits? Seen others that you believe are worthy of a mention?

Duly mention them below so that we can all enjoy the fantastic cinema that Mexico consistently produces.


I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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