10 Underrated Latin American Films That Deserve A Watch

From a handful of stunning debuts to masterful genre offerings and even an underseen entry from an Oscar darling, we look at some of the most overlooked Latin American filims of the last decade.

by | October 5, 2022 | Comments


When we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, we celebrate our culture, identity, community, and accomplishments throughout various fields of work. This includes cinema, where Latin American films have suffered from a lack of recognition and acknowledgment. Remember that Latin America comprises multiple countries, some of which have been delivering impeccable, influential films for decades. Here, we’ll focus on just 10 from the most recent decade, which has given us a number of promising debuts and underappreciated gems spanning a variety of genres.

The Golden Dream (2013)

Image from The Golden Dream

(Photo by Films Boutique)

Directed by: Diego Quemada-Díez
Country: Mexico
Starring: Brandon López, Rodolfo Domínguez, Karen Martínez, Carlos Chajon
Available on: Prime Video

This drama follows a group of teenagers from Guatemala who embark on a journey through Mexico to the United States in search of a better life. The film is an unflinching look at the perils of their migration and the conflicts that arise between the teens, and director Diego Quemada-Díez does an excellent job of placing the audience in the characters’ perspective, elevating the overall investment in their outcome. With the help of real locations and handheld camerawork, this film offers a level of realism and a fresh perspective on the immigrant experience.

Güeros (2014)

Directed by: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Country: Mexico
Starring: Tenoch Huerta, Sebastián Aguirre, Ilse Salas, Leonardo Ortizgris
Available on: Netflix and VOD

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ feature directorial debut is a contemplative black-and-white film that follows a pair of siblings and their friends as they make their way across Mexico City in search of a famous musician during the student strikes of the late ’90s. It’s difficult to believe this is a directorial debut with such stylistic choices in its framing, angles, and use of lighting. With so much to admire and dissect, specifically during this important social time, and anchored by an impressive performance from Tenoch Huerta (soon to be introduced as the MCU’s Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), this film will effortlessly engross you with its relatable characters and simple yet fascinating story.

Ixcanul (2015)

Directed by: Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala
Starring: María Mercedes Coroy, María Telón, Manuel Antún, Justo Lorenzo
Available on: VOD

Ixcanul means “volcano” in Kaqchikel (a Mayan language), and just like its title, this film depicts the parallels between our protagonist Maria (María Mercedes Coroy) and the volcanic hill on which she and her family reside. In another feature debut, writer-director Jayro Bustamante allows the camera to linger across the slope of the mountain, welcoming viewers to an immersive experience. Stories are not often told through this cultural lens, so while Maria’s isn’t necessarily a nuanced one, it still feels aesthetically and culturally authentic. This meditative and intimate drama is a must-watch.

Retablo (2017)

Image from Retablo

(Photo by Wolfe Releasing)

Directed by: Alvaro Delgado Aparicio
Country: Peru
Starring: Magaly Solier, Amiel Cayo, Junior Bejar, Mauro Chuchon
Available on: Roku, Tubi, and VOD

This stunning portrait of family and community from Peru tells a story about a respected artist named Noe (Amiel Cayo) whose son Segundo (Junior Bejar) discovers a secret he has kept hidden from his family. Noe practices the art of building “retablos” (altar-like structures containing depictions of religious and/or community stories), and when Segundo displays an aptitude for it, Noe is only too happy to teach him so he can carry on his legacy. This powerfully acted drama is also Alvaro Delgado Aparicio’s feature debut, and it explores familial and community relationships and how they’re heavily influenced by their cultural and religious beliefs.

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017)

Image from Tigers Are Not Afraid

(Photo by Shudder)

Directed by: Issa López
Country: Mexico
Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Nery Arredondo, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes, Tenoch Huerta
Available on: Shudder and VOD

This unforgettable horror film follows a group of children who try to survive the dangerous and violent environment that left them orphans. Incorporating magical realism and fantastical elements, this haunting depiction of the horrors caused by the drug war in Mexico is a harsh look at what children must endure on a daily basis. The acting by this ensemble is extraordinary, and although it can be a difficult watch, it’s important to remember the heartbreaking reality it represents. This is a brilliant use of genre to depict the innocent lives affected and provide a voice for those who have been silenced.

Bacurau (2019)

Image from Bacurau (Nighthawk)

(Photo by SBS International)

Directed by: Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho
Country: Brazil
Starring: Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Thardelly Lima
Available on: Showtime and VOD

In the small town of Bacurau, various inexplicable things begin to occur soon after the passing of the town’s matriarch. This mystery continues to unfold as strangers on motorcycles pay seemingly random visits and drones resembling UFOs fly over the area, eventually leading to a violent, gruesome confrontation between the town’s people and the invaders. This is an unforgettable symbolic depiction of what still occurs in many places around the world, made even more memorable by the all-around solid performances and stylistic aesthetic choices.

Ema (2019)

Directed by: Pablo Larraín
Country: Chile
Starring: Mariana Di Girólamo, Gael García Bernal, Santiago Cabrera, Paola Giannini
Available on: Showtime and VOD

In between the Oscar-nominated films Jackie and Spencer, Pablo Larraín directed this intimate look at a marriage that begins to deteriorate when a couple adopts a child but must return him due to their inability to raise him accordingly. This is a compelling look at self-discovery, self-expression, and self-advocacy in a world where women aren’t often afforded these types of freedoms. Beautifully shot with many sequences adorned in bright, flashy lights and sensual dance numbers, this film is a gem worth discovering.

La llorona (2019)

Directed by: Jayro Bustamante
Country: Guatemala
Starring: María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina de la Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic, Julio Diaz
Available on: Shudder and VOD

This reiteration of the legendary myth takes a different approach to “La Llorona.” Decolonizing her origins and reclaiming its indigenous roots, this film explores the myth amidst Guatemala’s Mayan genocide of the 1980s, following the war criminal dictator responsible for the deaths as his paranoia and consciousness worsen. Director Jayro Bustamante’s masterful approach lingers with you after the credits roll, particularly a bone-chilling testimony from an actual survivor, who only agreed to be in the film on the condition that her testimony was her real-life experience.

Song Without a Name (2019)

Image from Song Without a Name

(Photo by Film Movement)

Directed by: Melina León
Country: Peru
Starring: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas, Ruth Armas
Available on: Roku, Vudu, and VOD

This heartbreaking story of a mother in search of her stolen newborn child is one of the numerous examples of the indignities suffered by women in Peru during the 1980s. Director Melina León’s gorgeous wide shots of black-and-white cinematography enhance the loneliness and pain that Pamela Mendoza’s Geo feels, and when she sings a lullaby for the baby she can’t rock to sleep – her song for a nameless child – her heartbreak is palpable. The film also dives into journalism and the role it plays in conducting investigations in cases like this. It’s yet another impressive feature-length directorial debut worth your time.

Medusa (2021)

Directed by: Anita Rocha da Silveira
Country: Brazil
Starring: Mari Oliveira, Lara Tremouroux, Joana Medeiros, Felipe Frazão
Available on: VOD

This Brazilian film left me completely in awe and contemplating religious extremists driven by misogyny. It’s visually striking, contrasting the bright neon colors of the film’s musical performances against the paler, calmer tones of its quieter, more intimate conversations – a visual representation of the two sides of religion – and it explores the objectification of women, including the pressures of living up to unrealistic beauty standards. This is a thought-provoking look into the lives of young women, with strong performances all around and fantastic cinematography. An essential viewing.

Thumbnail image by Music Box Films

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