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Latinx Heritage Month 2020: 10 Contemporary Mexican Films You Should Watch

Mexican filmmaking has recently been in the forefront of the industry, thanks to the efforts of Academy Award winners such as Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu. But their work is only a small sample of the talent blooming in the country. 

According to IMCINE, México produced 216 features in 2019; 20% of them were directed by women, and 14 films had indigenous representation. A total of 101 Mexican films were released internationally, and 57 of them received an award. Among these numbers, you can find truly outstanding films, some of which haven’t been watched by enough people both nationally and internationally.

The purpose of this list is to give exposure to some of Mexico’s finest films in recent years. Here you will find thrillers, documentaries, animation, coming-of-age, dramas and more. 

“Ana y Bruno” (2017)

In this animated feature, Academy Award nominee Carlos Carrera brings us the story of Ana, a girl trying to rescue her mother from an asylum and its evil director. To achieve this, Ana is helped by colorful characters derived from the hallucinations of the asylum’s patients.

“Ana y Bruno” isn’t the most spectacular animation out there, but what it lacks in budget, it makes up for with heart and imagination. This is a highly creative achievement that uses charm and wit to delve into complicated themes like mental health and loss. It has melancholia, clever twists and more depth than you can imagine. It’s an exceptional work that’s up there with the best animated films of the last decade.

Watch on Amazon Video.

“Asfixia (Suffocation)” (2019)

After getting out of jail, an albino woman named Alma is looking to recover her life, and that starts with trying to find her little daughter, who is now at the hands of her abusive ex-husband. To achieve this, Alma is forced to take care of Clemente, a hypochondriac and superstitious man that sees her as a guardian angel. 

Alma also seeks help from Concha, her disloyal friend and polar opposite. Alma wants air… a new life with open possibilities, while Concha sees marriage as her ultimate goal, even if that means getting psychologically suffocated by a toxic environment. 

The rain-filled scenery, the dirty street and the painted walls of Mexico City are asphyxiating, but not as much as the discrimination Alma suffers because of her albinism and ex-convict status. With “Asfixia”, director Kenya Márquez offers a bold, unique look at social issues in Mexico.

Watch on iTunes or Google Play.

“Bellas de noche (Beauties of the Night)” (2016)

This 2016 documentary studies the life of five ‘vedettes’ (cabaret showgirls) famous in México during the ‘70s and ‘80s. With empathy and love, director María José Cuevas explores the importance of cabaret in Mexican culture, its five subjects’ rise to fame, their present without it and their relationship with time.

“Bellas de noche” shows powerful, intelligent and complex women, smashing all prejudices and forcing you to look beyond the sexist ideology surrounding their work. The women themselves, now in their 60s, speak their own stories: tales of imprisonment, abuse, disease and heartbreak. It’s a melancholic, honest and urgent dignification of the showgirl business.

Watch on Netflix.

“Esto no es Berlín (This Is Not Berlin)” (2019)

This queer coming-of-age film follows Carlos, a 17-year-old that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere… until he discovers the underground night scene of ‘80s Mexico City. It’s set in 1986, not long after a massive earthquake tore down the city and unveiled the government’s ineptitude. It was a time of experimental artistic expression and cultural awakening. Carlos is drawn to this brave new world of music, art, drugs and pansexuality.

In this semi-autobiographical effort, director Hari Sama crafts a vibrant and detailed painting of youth, an ode to transformation that celebrates culture and never forgets the difficult realities of the country. Oh, and he also directs the hell out of his casting: Xabiani Ponce de León, Ximena Romo and José Antonio Toledano are phenomenal.

Watch on Hulu, Kanopy, Amazon Video, iTunes or Google Play.

“Familia de medianoche (Midnight Family)” (2019)

Just a quick clarification: This was directed by Luke Lorentzen, a foreign director living in Mexico City… but it’s still an important tale about México and its people. This documentary follows the Ochoas, a family that operates a private ambulance and therefore is always on the watch for any incident that might require their transportation and health services. 

The Ochoas have to compete and race with other private ambulances, as well as deal with extortion coming from police officers. They save lives at the risk of their own, but often, they are not rewarded for their work. The obstacles faced by the Ochoas are almost like a small encapsulation of the normal day-to-day some of us face in México City: corruption, injustice and lack of empathy,. However, underpaid heros like the Ochoas represent the goodness of our people, and “Midnight Family” does a tremendous job of showing just that.

Watch on Amazon Video, Google Play or Fandango.

“La caja vacía (The Empty Box)” (2016)

Claudia Sainte-Luce writes, directs and stars as Jazmín in this drama about a young woman having to take care of her dementia-suffering father. Jazmín doesn’t like her father at all, but she is forced to know him and discover why he is so beloved by friends and strangers alike.

Besides focusing on a father-daughter relationship, “The Empty Box” addresses racial issues and offers a peek into the consequences of vascular dementia, like memory loss and paranoia. The story and acting feel authentic because it’s inspired by Sainte-Luce’s father’s real-life battle with dementia. This is a vastly underseen movie crafted with care and love by a very talented Haitian-Mexican filmmaker.

Watch on Amazon Video, Google Play, or YouTube.

“La camarista (The Chambermaid)” (2018)

Lila Avilés’s feature debut follows Evelia, a 24-year-old woman working as a chambermaid in a five-star hotel in Mexico City. Evelia shouldn’t be seen by guests and is just there to clean rooms with precision and speed. She should be a ghost. At least that’s what the workplace seems to dictate. She must provide the luxury that her meager paychecks will never allow her to have. 

Aviles’s camera work is riveting and Gabriela Cartol’s subtle performance is transcendent. There’s hope, pain, heartbreak and isolation in Evelia’s day-to-day work. She craves a future that seems farther away with each room she cleans. It’s a film that talks about issues that are invisible to many and, while doing so, it becomes an emotionally gripping tale about the unseen.

Watch on Starz, Google Play, Amazon Video or YouTube.

“Mientras el lobo no está (While the Wolf’s Away)” (2017)

This is a coming-of-age thriller set in an isolated boarding school from which four friends are constantly trying to escape. “While the Wolf’s Away” develops themes of friendship, young love and rebelliousness, but it also gets into some very dark territories. The film was shot in La Castañeda, a building that used to be Mexico’s biggest insane asylum, and the cinematography does a great job of creating dread out of its halls.

It’s flawed, and sometimes its characters are too dumb for their own good, but Joseph Hemson managed to craft a fresh, engaging and even scary coming-of-age gem, which is something quite uncommon in Mexican cinema lately.

Watch on Amazon Video or DIRECTV.

“Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language)” (2017)

This is the tale of Martín, a young linguist that travels to a remote town to try to save a dying Indigenous language. Unfortunately, there are only two speakers alive, and they despise each other. Martín discovers these men were close friends long ago and tries to mend things between them. 

“I Dream in Another Language” is as beautiful as heartbreaking. Director Ernesto Contreras subtlety delves into many themes such as migration, acceptance and religion, but ultimately it’s a film about forgiveness, with a touch of magic realism that uses sound and image to forge a unique atmosphere. It won the 2017 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award and Best Picture at the Ariel Awards (the Mexican Oscars).

Watch on Amazon Prime, Pluto TV, Tubi, Kanopy or Google Play.

“Ya no estoy aquí (I’m No Longer Here)” (2019)

Ulises lives in a rough neighborhood in the north of Mexico City. He spends his time dancing to cumbia music with his little posse. For them, cumbia is a language of its own; it’s identity and life. However, violence appears and blood starts flowing. Without knowing a drop of English, Ulises is forced to leave his family and emigrate to New York, where he feels completely alone.

“I’m No Longer Here” is a tale full of detail and authenticity. It’s a vivid portrait of identity, fear, friendship, immigration and the broken youth, victims of violence created by a government that doesn’t care about its people.

Watch on Netflix.

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Featured image credit: Netflix

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