Inspired by my previous post where I recommended 16 films based on the 16 finalists of the UEFA European Championship, I decided to write a similar post but based on Copa América, the South American Football Championship and the oldest still-running international football competition. It started on 11 June and the finale will be held on 10 July 2021. Below I am recommending 8 films based on the 8 South American countries that reached the quarter-finals.
ARGENTINA: The Secret in their Eyes (2009) (dir. Juan José Campanella)
This Argentinian masterpiece is a must-watch film. In this both clever and emotional story, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), once a criminal investigator, looks back on one puzzling rape-and-murder case in his career, the officially unresolved case of Morales. This case once touched him deeply, especially since he was trying to catch the murderer with his beautiful and intelligent co-worker, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman he has always secretly loved. Now, looking back and piecing together all the evidence, including the one gathered by his imperfect co-worker Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), Esposito thinks he has finally found the clues he missed twenty-five years ago. Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows (2018)) is one of the finest Argentinian actors and his film Nine Queens (2000), directed by the late Fabián Bielinsky, is also a tense crime drama to watch, detailing the story of two petty thieves who “try to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of counterfeit rare stamps (the “nine queens”)”.
BRAZIL: Central Station (1998) (dir. Walter Salles)
Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)) directed this touching film set in Rio de Janeiro about Isadora (Fernanda Montenegro), a grumpy station worker, who reluctantly agrees to help a boy who has just lost his mother to find his father. The film may be too generic in its storyline, but the stunning performance by Montenegro and the clever presentation by Salles elevate it to an unforgettable experience. City of God (2002) is another great, powerful, provocative, shot-on-location film from Brazil that looks at the social conditions of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (slums) in the 1970s.
COLOMBIA: Monos (2019) (dir. Alejandro Landes)
Monos is an intense, riveting, unapologetic thriller set in the Colombian mountains about a group teenagers who assume the role of guerrilla soldiers in a jungle. They have to guard a prisoner of war “Doctora”, and their adolescent mentality soon clashes with the ruthlessness of war and power politics. The story, which might have been inspired by Lord of Flies by William Golding, is as fascinating as the cinematography by Jasper Wolf is profound. Other notable films from Columbia include Embrace of the Serpent (2015), Birds of Passage (2018) and Maria Full of Grace (2004). Colombia is also a country known for its excellent documentaries (as so many other South American countries), for example see Love, Women and Flowers (1988), Alias Yineth (2018) and Our Voice of Earth, Memory and Future (1982).
CHILE: No (2012) (dir. Pablo Larraín)
Based on an unpublished play El Plebiscito by Antonio Skarmeta, this documentary-like 2012 film focuses on René (Gael García Bernal (Museo (2018))), an advertising man working in Chile in the late 1980s at the time of the political campaigns for the 1988 plebiscite, a national referendum which was held on 5 October 1988 to decide whether dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years. Other great films from Chile include the work of director Sebastián Lelio – see Gloria (2013), a film about a fifty-plus office worker in Santiago and her night escapades to seek both love and freedom, or A Fantastic Woman (2017), a story about Marina, a transgender woman whose world is shattered after her lover’s untimely death.
ECUADOR: Sumergible (2020) (dir. Alfredo León León)
Latin American cinema is no stranger to films that focus on cartels, drug dealing/trafficking and drug addiction (see my list of “international crimes” films and my list of films dealing with drugs). Sumergible‘s plot revolves around a submersible used for drug smuggling that finds itself in dire circumstances – it is sinking and its crew has to make life-or-death decisions quick. Like some other recent films, especially Spanish The Platform (2019), Sumergible tries to present a small microcosm of society, portraying human nature in all its colours, from greed and selfishness to fear and a basic desire to survive.
PARAGUAY: La Hamaca Paraguaya (2006) (dir. Paz Encina)
Screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2006, Paraguayan Hammock is set in 1935 and the background is the Paraguayan-Bolivian war. In this story, “a couple of aged smallholders (an aging mother and father) are waiting for their son, for rain, for better days” (IMDb). This film, which might have drawn some inspiration from an acclaimed novella El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (“No One Writes to the Colonel“) by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, may be too contemplative and rather slow, but, somehow, it still manages to make a statement.
PERU: The Mouth of the Wolf (1988) (dir. Francisco José Lombardi)
Francisco José Lombardi is one of the finest Peruvian film directors, who also directed The City and the Dogs (1985), a film based on the acclaimed novel by Nobel Prize Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. The Mouth of the Wolf or In the Mouth of the Wolf is a tense action drama detailing an operation by one anti-terrorist group who tries to fight a terrorist group “Shining Path” that took complete control of one isolated village. An Academy Award-nominee The Milk of Sorrow (2009) is another good film from Peru. In this story, Fausta (Magaly Solier), a young woman who inherits a frightening disease, is determined not to become a victim of prejudice and early death.
URUGUAY: Anina (2013) (dir. Alfredo Soderguit)
I have to admit that I am far from being an expert on the Uruguayan cinema, but I wanted to recommend at least one animation in this football-inspired series and settled for Uruguay’s Anina. This is a story about Anina, a ten-year old girl who gets the strangest punishment of all: she has to hold one black envelope for the duration of an entire week without ever opening it. The animation is far from perfect, but it is charming and its eccentricities delight.