Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema came to an abrupt end in the late 1950s. The money that had flowed into filmmaking went dry, cinemas went dark and audiences turned away. Yet for some years now, people have been talking about a new “Golden Age.”
Several Mexican independent filmmakers have achieved worldwide recognition. In the past decade, three Mexicans have taken home Best Director awards at Cannes. Mexicans have also been a dominating presence in Hollywood, winning both Best Director and Best Cinematographer Oscars for three years running.
While Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant or Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity have reached broad international audiences, their early works in Spanish are not as well-known. Yet for a crash course in Mexican cinema you need not leave the house. Here are six excellent Mexican films currently showing on Netflix.
1. Amores perros (2000)
When people talk about a new “Golden Age” in Mexican cinema, they usually date its beginning to this. Starring Gael García Bernal and Emilio Echevarría, the film’s focal point is a car crash in Mexico City. This central event brings together three separate stories concerning local characters with complicated love lives and an attachment to their dogs. The film was released just as the country turned from its more than 70-year history of one-party-rule and it captures the often brutally competitive reality of modern, urban Mexican living. Amores Perros almost singlehandedly kick-started the film industry in Mexico, as well as launched Iñárritu and Bernal’s extraordinary careers.
2. Sin Nombre (2009)
Before Cary Fukunaga achieved worldwide acclaim for Beasts of No Nation and the classy crime series True Detective he directed Sin Nombre, a poignant yet fast-paced thriller about the lives of migrants heading to the United States. The film tells the story of a young Honduran girl and a runaway Mexican gang member who meet aboard the notorious “Bestia” train which rattles through Mexico on its way to the border. Fukunaga, a restrained and intelligent director, avoids the temptation of it becoming a conventional romance. Instead, we watch the attachment that develops between conflicted characters caught in a socio-political tragedy beyond their control. The double Sundance award-winning film ranks among the best Spanish language films of the decade.
3. El Infierno (2010)
Luis Estrada must be the best known director in Mexico who has not yet become a household name abroad. His 2010 film, El Infierno (Hell) is the third in a trilogy that includes La ley de Herodes (Herod’s Law) from 1999 and a 2006 feature, Un mundo maravilloso (A Wonderful World), both also available on Netflix in Mexico. After receiving mixed reviews for the second instalment in the trilogy, Estrada returned in fine form with El Infierno, a biting satirical comedy about a deported migrant’s transformation into a cartel foot soldier. The film takes aim at drug traffickers but also humanizes them. “The important thing for me was to show some of the complexity of the phenomenon,” Estrada said, “This is not a problem about good guys versus bad guys like the government says.”
4. La Dictadura Perfecta (2013)
Estrada followed the critical and commercial success of El Infierno with La Dictadura Perfecta (The Perfect Dictatorship) a film that takes its name from Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa’s famous description of Mexico under the continuous governments of the PRI. The satire attacks the cozy relationship between Mexico’s television networks and its politicians. Several real-life gaffes from recent Mexican history are featured in the story and in some ways the film is hindered by its own accuracy, which detracts from the humor. Yet this is still a solid story about political corruption that was a massive hit in Mexico. “The box-office results are all the more impressive because the film was never mentioned on TV,” Estrada said. “Not even on network news and entertainment programs, not once.”
5. Colosio: El Asesinato (2012)
It’s 1994. Mexico’s front-running presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio is shot dead at a campaign rally. The killer confesses to the crime, but few people believe the official version, especially after at least 15 people linked to the case are murdered in suspicious circumstances. In this conspiracy thriller, fictional investigator Andrés Vázquez is hired to lead a secret investigation into the crime. He finds evidence that points away from the lone gunman explanation and towards the PRI Party’s own shadowy elite. A solid thriller timed to embarrass the PRI in the run-up to its return to power in 2012.
6. Una ultima y nos vamos (2015)
A small-town mariachi band leaves the state of Jalisco in pursuit of fame and recognition in Mexico City. They enter a national music competition that could be the opportunity of a lifetime. The winning group will perform at the Basilica of Guadalupe. Yet during the trip, intimate secrets bubble to the surface, testing their bonds of friendship and threatening the future of the band. Una ultima y nos vamos (One for the Road) is a light-hearted, at times sentimental film about friendship and perseverance.