Happy Cinco de Mayo! Tour Mexico Through the Movies!

Celebrate the holiday using our cinematic road map!

by | May 4, 2009 | Comments

Another year, another Cinco de Mayo celebrating Mexican pride and heritage. Some
of our most beloved films have come from or are set in our neighboring country,
so we’re re-posting one of our favorite features we’ve done: the cinematic tour
of Mexico. By clicking on the green-highlighted states below, you’ll get a quick
primer on movies set in that state. It’s time rediscover your favorite movies set south of the border!





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Federal District

Let’s start in the Federal District. Here you’ll find Mexico City, the country’s capital and its most vital source for arts,
culture, and economy. Though it probably benefited little from
Man on Fire
being set
there. The film starred Denzel Washington as an ex-CIA agent determined to
save a young kidnapped girl (Dakota Fanning), focusing on Mexico City’s
criminal gangs, gritty architecture, and the fiery explosions that regularly
occur there.

Need a more intimate guide to Mexico City?
Check out the artists-in-residence in
Frida
, the glitz and glamour of
The
Matador
, or the social realism as seen in
Y tu Mama Tambien
,
Amores perros,
and Los Olvidados.


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Baja California

Tijuana’s one
of the major Mexican destinations to lose (and re-discover) yourself. And
since it stands just a stone’s throw across the border, Tijuana-set movies
are also about the road trip that lead into the city. Case in point:
Losin’
It
, an early Curtis Hanson-directed movie, starring Tom Cruise as part of a
pack of boys driving south for some wild nights down Mexico way.

But peel away Tijuana’s sun-dried gloss and you can find some dark stories,
like in Robert Altman’s
The Long Goodbye
,
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s
Babel
, and Steven
Soderbergh’s Traffic.


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Coahuila

Ciudad Acuna
is a border city in the Coahuila state, just on the other side of Del Rio,
Texas. City residents are especially careful of its street warfare and
Mexican standoffs, as seen in
El Mariachi
and
Desperado, the first two
installments of Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy. And in
No Country for Old
Men
, Llewelyn Moss crosses into Ciudad Acuna for some much-needed medical
attention. Keep that in mind next time you’re being chased by a psychopath
whilst carrying a satchel of money in West Texas.

But Ciudad Acuna isn’t completely about outlaws. Alfonso Arau’s sensitive
drama,
Like Water for Chocolate
, also took place here.



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Guerrero

Forget Tijuana
or Cancun, Guerrero is the real party destination in Mexico. The state is
home to Acapulco, which was graced by Elvis Presley in the 1963 beach romp
Fun in Acapulco, where he tussled with lifeguards and took a job as a hotel
crooner.

And about 100 miles up Guerrero’s coast, you’ll come across the seaside town
of Zihuatanejo. Sound familiar? It’s the symbolism-heavy place Andy Dufrense
dreamt about for nearly two decades in
The Shawshank Redemption
.



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Durango

Durango’s the name of a Mexican
state situated in the heart of the country, and it’s the setting for one of
the greatest and most notorious films, Western or otherwise, ever to be
made: The Wild Bunch.

Known for
its violence and groundbreaking action cinematography, The Wild Bunch is Sam Peckinpah’s classic tale of betrayal and opportunism, focusing on a gang of
bandits being hunted by one of their own from Texas to Mexico. During an
era when the popularity of Westerns was waning, Peckinpah made certain the
genre went out with a resounding BANG, employing the kind of realism he felt
had been missing from other similar films. Filmed on location in Mexico,
The Wild Bunch offers a gritty glimpse at what life may have been like south
of the border in 1913.



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Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo is famous for its beautiful historical sites and ugly American
behavior, much of it concentrated in the tourist town of Cancun. No film
embodies the party-hearty atmosphere of the costal city like the “reality
film” The Real Cancun, a document of pervasive drunken debauchery and
promiscuity so depraved it would make the principals in
Satyricon

blush.

The characters
in The Ruins show more interest in Mayan architecture than beer
bongs, but they find the out skirts of Cancun to be loaded with hazards as
well — particularly ancient curses. Neither of these films paint Mexico’s
youngest state in the best light, but Quintana Roo is a place of rich
history and ecological diversity.



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Tamaulipas

According to
John Huston’s
Treasure of Sierra Madre
, the city of Tampico is a place
with as much disregard for the sanctity of law (“I don’t have to show you
any stinking badges”) as for the sanctity of land (“We’ve wounded this
mountain”). At the tail end of the Mexican Revolution, some
down-on-their-luck-prospectors (Bogey and Walter Huston among them) go
searching for gold under the nose of a war-torn government. As if spurned by
the future ghosts of eco-tourism, the men face their comeuppance at the
hands of Banditos, Federales and their own clawing greed.


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Oaxaca

For his
follow-up to smash hit
Napoleon Dynamite
, writer/director Jared Hess left
the ‘burbs of America and headed down south into the hills and towns of
Oaxaca. His film, Nacho Libre, stars Jack Black as a monk named Nacho who
finally works up the courage to become a Luchador.

The final act of Alfonso Cuaron’s
Y tu Mama Tambien was filmed in Puerto
Escondido, Oaxaca. A bold road film of sexual discovery and politics, Mama
revolves around two young men who take a trip south of Mexico City with an
attractive older woman, in search of a beach they made up to impress her.
Fitting for a city whose name translates to “hidden port.”



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Morelos

Morelos is the
second-smallest state in Mexico, but it’s been host to some major motion
pictures. In the Morelos town of Cuernavca specifically, John Huston shot
the desert scenes of
The Magnificent Seven
, his remake of
The Seven Samurai
starring Yul Brenner as leader of a ragtag group protecting a farming
village from bandits.

Under the Volcano was also shot in Cuernavca. A 1984 John Huston drama about
an alcoholic and his eventful Day of the Dead in 1939, Volcano was nominated
for three Oscars and was released last year on DVD for the first time by
Criterion.



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Yucatan

With its achievements in architecture, science, mathematics, art, and
written language, the Mayans established one of the most culturally dynamic
societies on earth. Mel Gibson’s
Apocalypto
tells the fictional story
of the Mayans fall and in doing so, guides viewers on a tour of ancient
Yucatan, including its vibrant cities, its jungles, and its wildlife.

The ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza were used as a backdrop for
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult classic
The Holy Mountain
, at one time
the most expensive movie ever made in Mexico. At the ruins, Jodorowsky
dispenses wisdom to a group of powerful people seeking immortality.



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An Unspecified Mexican State

In most films set in unnamed Mexican locales, the country is a wasteland
full of perilous, abandoned bodies (left for dead like Michael Douglas in
The
Game
) and men with ready guns (or fangs if you’re thinking of Rodriguez
and Tarantino’s pre-Grindhouse grindhouse satire
From Dusk
Till
Dawn
). Often times, the unspecified terrains are located disturbingly
close to “home”; close enough, in fact, we might see our safe little houses
from the view on the hill…if only we could see past the border patrol.
Orson Welles had a particular fascination with hot, sexy Mexico and so set
both Mr. Arkadin and the now infamous
Touch of Evil
in the
tenuous clutches of her broad, unchecked borders.

More
than any other literal point on the map, the unspecified Mexico demonstrates
America’s fascination with our border nation and the burning, unbridled
frontier we believed in once and no longer. Poignant that we have to go to
another country to see the Wild West.



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Fictional Mexican Cities

Afraid your stereotype-laden comedy might offend the more sensitive natives
of Mexico? Simply take liberties and make up a new town!

1986’s
Three
Amigos
is set in the fabled land of Santo Paco, the townspeople are
terrorized by a bandit named El Guapo until they call upon three washed-up
actors (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short) whom they believe to be
real gunslingers. And the three actors arrive in Santo Poco under the
impression Santo Poco’s plea for help is actually a plot outline for a new
movie. For the three lead actors, comedies rarely topped this fun flick.

Larry the Cable Guy takes his sophisticated comedy internationally in
Delta Farce, playing an army reservists en route to Iraq but inadvertently
gets dropped in the peasant village of La Miranda. Leaning on both Middle
Eastern and Latin American ethnic jokes, it’s two comedy bits for the price
of one!

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