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10 great contemporary films to help you learn Spanish
Spanish cinema is an excellent way to learn about the cultures of Spain and Latin America. Exposure to the Spanish language through film is also a great way to train your ear to the sounds and intonation of spoken Spanish.
Here we give you our top 10 Spanish films of recent times - but would be interested to hear your suggestions too!
1. Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) - 1993
Adapted from the novel by Mexican author Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate tells the story of Tita who, when forced to look after her mother rather than be with her true love Pedro, pours all her emotion into her cooking, affecting all those who unwittingly eat her delicately-prepared dishes. Set during the Mexican Revolution with family feuds and strong passions a central theme, this film is a visual and thematic delight, a true feast for the senses. Until the release of Pan’s Labyrinth, it was the best selling Spanish-language film of all time.
2. El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) – 2006
Early in 2007 the Mexican fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth became the most successful Spanish-language film of all time in the US. Rich in visuals, the film takes place in the fascist Spain of 1944 and tells the story of a young girl who is sent to live with her cruel stepfather, a captain of the Spanish Army. Fascinated with fairy tales, she escapes one night into an eerie yet captivating world which plays out as part fantasy, part historical drama and part family melodrama. As much as the film astounds, the costumes, set design and special effects are just as breathtaking. In all a compelling and truly original Spanish-language movie.
3. Y Tu Mamá También (And Your Mother Too) - 2001
Arguably the film that launched Latin actor Gael García Bernal’s career, Y Tu Mamá También is a coming-of-age story about two teenage boys setting off on a road trip with an attractive older woman who is escaping her marriage. Set in Mexico in 2001, the film draws attention to the country’s then economic and political issues, in particular the situation of the poor in rural Mexico. It was received with a certain amount of controversy due to its sexual content yet it went on to gain nominations for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards and Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.
4. El Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) – 2004
Javier Bardem is perfectly cast in this true-life story of Spanish quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro, who fought an emotional 30-year campaign to end his life with dignity. A film that leaves you thinking about it for some while after, The Sea Inside touches on weighty moral issues such as the desire to end one’s life and the legal issues that surround euthanasia. Yet Ramón has an incredible gift of love, and through this he inspires the people around him to appreciate the precious nature of life and accomplish things they never thought possible. I personally cannot recommend this film highly enough.
5. All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre) - 1999
Since the early 1980s, Spanish director Almodóvar has been hugely influential in world cinema, no more so than with his 1999 masterpiece Todo Sobre Mi Madre. An emotional tale of grief, love and friendship, this film follows single mother Manuela who, after her son is run over and killed, heads for Barcelona in search of his father, developing a number of rich relationships along the way. All About My Mother won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, as well as countless other awards for direction, costume, acting and more.
6. María, Llena Eres de Gracia (Maria Full of Grace) - 2004
Even knowing what this film was about before I saw it, Maria Full of Grace shocked me as I’m sure it well intended to. Released in 2004, it tells the story of a 17-year-old Colombian girl, María, who becomes a drug mule, dangerously transporting illicit drugs into the United States in her digestive system. With plenty of scope to sensationalise drugs trafficking and the violence that goes with it, this film is actually very much underplayed, yet the fear felt by María and the reasons that have driven her to risk her life doing this are palpable. Compelling in the uncertainty of how it will end, shocking in its honesty and somber in the reality it portrays, Maria Full of Grace is one of the best Spanish-language films of the last decade.
7. Abre los Ojos (Open your eyes) - 2000
Another masterpiece of Amenábar (who also directed Mar Adentro), Abre los Ojos is the original and, in many people’s opinion, far superior version of the Hollywood film Vanilla Sky. Starring Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega, this film follows a handsome and wealthy man who meets the love of his life and then finds himself severely disfigured following a car crash. With subtle effects, engaging music and clever twists, Abre los Ojos is both an ingenious thriller and a compelling love story that keeps you hooked til the very end.
8. Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries) – 2004
This is the daring and sensitive dramatisation of 23-year-old Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s motorcycle trip through South America in 1952 with his friend Alberto. Riding from Argentina up to Venezuela, the pair discover much about the world and themselves, forming rich relationships with the people they meet, breaking down barriers and highlighting the continent’s inequality and poverty along the way. Gael Garcia Bernal gives a thoughtful and striking performance as the young Che, a fascinating character who has since had significant influence across Latin America as a whole.
9. Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) – 1994
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, this Cuban film explores the treatment of gays in Cuba in the early days of Castro’s regime. Diego, an educated and homosexual young man, falls in love with a young heterosexual communist, and what grows from this is a story of great friendship and love that manages to triumph over intolerance and misunderstanding. In addition to this, the film is a valuable insight into Cuban life: it is littered with references to famous Cuban writers and musicians and touches on Cuban history, politics and everyday life. Less a ‘gay’ film, it is more about accepting differences and learning to appreciate other points of view and ways of life.
10. Amores Perros – 2000
Based in Mexico City, Amores Perros tells the story of a horrific car accident that connects three stories involving characters of very different backgrounds. Together these stories show the darker side of life in contemporary Mexico, and as such the film is very real, complex and thought-provoking. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Amores Perros was the first of Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu’s ‘trilogy of death’, succeeded by the equally excellent ’21 Grams’ and ‘Babel’.
Did we miss your all-time favourite Spanish-language film from our list? Please add your suggestions by leaving us a comment!
Comment on this Blog
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