My love for Spanish-language films began in college, when I'd watch Pedro Almodóvar movies (like TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN) in Spanish Club. There is something about Spanish language films that draws me in; it could be the subtlety, the occasional magical realism, or the way narration and voice overs are used. I respect that in these films, relationships are valued over, say, explosions. And there's never any shortage of interesting and strong female characters. It's the combination of all these elements that make me really love curling up with popcorn, a beer, and a good DVD. Here are my top five Spanish language film picks that should be on your queue if they aren't already.
Paz Vega is breathtaking in any language.
5. SEX AND LUCÍA (2001)
Written and directed by Julio Medem, and starring Paz Vega (who has become familiar in American households thanks to SPANGLISH), SEX AND LUCIA is gorgeous in every way. The film revolves around a love affair that a Madrid waitress shares with a writer, but much of the film takes place on a Mediterranean island where Lucía takes a journey of self-discovery (that's "teacher-speak" for lots of sex) and learns the truth about her past relationships; and the audience, along with Lucía, learn about the interconnectedness of the human spirit.
4. MARIA FULL OF GRACE (2004)
The writer and director of this film is California-born Joshua Marston, who does a remarkable job of telling the plights of thousands through the haunting story of one. Maria is played brilliantly by Catalina Sandino Moreno (see Luz Hernandez's latest column). She is an intelligent, sassy 17-year-old with a healthy amount of pluck, a selfish and obnoxious boyfriend, and
a job stripping thorns off roses at a plantation in rural Colombia. She lives in a small house with her grandmother, mother, sister and sister's baby, and when she finds that she, too, is pregnant, she is desperate to leave. She happens upon people eager to make her into a drug mule. Being a drug mule isn't safe, but neither was stripping thorns off rose stems all day with no breaks. This film also shows the ways that humans are all connected spiritually, just as SEX AND LUCÍA does, but MARIA FULL OF GRACE also shows the ways that the Americas are connected. We see that whether it's through legal commodities like flowers, or illegal commodities like drugs, the economy of North America has a direct effect on the economy of South America. At the end of this moving film, the audience is forced to ask themselves how far they would go for a better life, how far they would go to protect their children.
Why are the sex scenes so unappealing?Verdu is dangerously skinny, for one.
3. Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2002)
I always thought a great English title for this Alfonso Cuarón (CHILDREN OF MEN) film could have been "How to Wreck a Friendship in Three Orgasms or Less." This is a classic coming of age tale for two protagonists, Tenoch (Diego Luna, DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS) and Julio (Gael García Bernal, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES). The summer after high school and before college, the boys embark on a trip to a mystical beach with the wife of Tenoch's cousin (played by Maribel Verdú), whom they plan to seduce. And while the friendship between the two boys can withstand arguments and economic disparity, the friendship cannot withstand the effects of their emotional immaturity. The beauty in this film is not the sex (in fact, the
film features very unerotic, unappealing sex scenes), but rather it's the gentle unfolding of story and the poignant unraveling of the friendship.
Doug Jones: the only gringo name in the credits.
2. TALK TO HER (2002)
Two men, two women, two comas. Only Almodóvar could get away with something so odd, so dramatic, so creepy. Benigno (Javier Camera) is in love with a beautiful ballerina who, unfortunately, is in a coma for much of their relationship. Marco (Dario Grandinetti) is in love with a female bullfighter who winds up in the same hospital and the two men become friends. This film plays with sex, madness, and destiny. Almodóvar can get the most intellectual of film viewers to ask themselves the most inane, cliche, and ridiculous questions, such as, "Is it possible that everything happens for a reason?"
1. PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006)
Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro created a masterpiece with PAN'S LABYRINTH, and if you missed it in the theatre, I'm very sorry. Set during the Spanish Civil War, Ofelia is a young girl whose widowed mother has married the fascist Captain Vidal for protection and security. Unfortunately, Vidal's only concerns are with his unborn child and with tracking and hunting the rebels who litter the hills in the area. Meanwhile, Ofelia discovers that one of Vidal's servants, Mercedes (played by Maribel Verdú, from Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN) is giving aid to the rebels. Del Toro switches between the horrific realism of Civil War Spain and the foreboding and fantastic realm of Ofelia's world (is it a dreamland or is it real?) The movie's unsung hero: Doug Jones who plays the roles of the faun and the Pale Man and injects these creatures with a life all their own.
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Semi-wholesome Midwestern girl and certified Geek Magnet offers her suggestions - often new, sometimes classic - for DVDs that are definitely queue-worthy.
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