Discover the Nuevo Cine Mexicano: Five Films You Must Rent-Main

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

Attend your local cineplex and, if you pay attention to film credits, you'll find an increasing number of incredibly talented Mexican artists contributing in many different capacities to high-grossing films. For example, the third installment of the successful Harry Potter series was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, whose futuristic thriller "The Children of Men" won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's Best Cinematography Award. The breathtaking views of eastern Wyoming's lush landscapes (actually filmed in southern Alberta) in "Brokeback Mountain" were captured by Best Cinematography Academy Award nominee Rodrigo Prieto, who went on to collaborate with Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez IƱarritu in last year's narrative drama "Babel." By the time you read this, "Babel" may have won any of seven Hollywood Foreign Press Association Golden Globe Award nominations at the presentation of the 64th Annual Golden Globe Awards, giving Mexico's creative force an even more prominent presence in the world's cinematographic limelight.

Many of the aforementioned artists, along with several others, have played a pivotal role in Mexican cinema development, which started at the beginning of the 20th century but has experienced a tremendous surge over the last couple of decades. Thanks to the advent of the DVD, we are able to discover (or, in some cases, rediscover) many Mexican films that are considered representative of what is now referred to as "el Nuevo Cine Mexicano," or New Mexican Cinema. The following is a selection of such films.

Regretfully, if you are in Mexico, chances are that the versions of these films available at local video stores will not have English subtitles. However, we've verified that the versions available through online retailers, such as amazon.com, not only have subtitles but also often have insightful commentary by actors and directors. Pursue any of these enlightening films and you will acquire a deeper understanding of their creators' roles in the production of some of the later films mentioned above.

Like Water for Chocolate (1993)

"Como Agua para Chocolate," Alfonso Arau's beautiful adaptation of Laura Esquivel's first novel, is a tour-de-force in the magic realism artistic genre present in the work of many Latin American writers, where magical elements manifest themselves in an otherwise normal environment. In this case, Tita, the main character, expresses her love of the kitchen through her cooking. When people try her dishes, unexpected things happen.

Amores Perros (2000)

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez IƱarritu, "Amores Perros" (also known as "Love's a Bitch") features three separate stories linked by a car accident that takes place in Mexico City. This film served as a springboard for Gael Garcia Bernal, who went on to star in the two following films and is presently enjoying international acclaim for his performance in "Babel."

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

This film by Alfonso Cuaron was Diego Luna's big break. Along with childhood friend Gael Garcia Bernal, they appear as teenagers in a coming-of-age road trip with an attractive older woman during which they learn about friendship and sex. Set in contemporary Mexico, the film offers a candid view of the country's political and economic realities during the leadership of PRI, Mexico's revolutionary party. Its strong language, violence and sexual scenes made the film an international hit.

The Crime of Padre Amaro (2002)

Uncovering the lifelong relationship between church and corruption, "El Crimen del Padre Amaro" tells the story of a young priest (Gael Garcia Bernal) who struggles as he uncovers drug-related financial assistance in a small town's church community, and as he fights falling in love and having a passionate sexual relationship with a local 16-year-old (Ana Claudia Talancon). Thanks to the many Roman Catholic groups in Mexico that opposed the film's controversial subject, "Padre Amaro" became Mexico's biggest box office draw ever.

Frida (2002)

Although not a Mexican film per se, this film by acclaimed American director Julie Taymor is the result of actress Salma Hayek's eight-year struggle to bring the life of successful and tormented painter Frida Kahlo to the big screen internationally. The production of a Frida film by director Luis Valdez was in the works in the early 1990s, a period during which Frida Kahlo's work had captured the world's interest. A longtime fan, Hayek auditioned for the part but was turned down for being too young for it. She prophetically replied, "Then you are going to have to wait until I'm old enough." Eight years later, acting as co-producer and as Frida herself, Hayek ensured that the film accurately recreated Mexico in the first half of the 20th century, along with her relationship with Mexican painter Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina).

Garnering six Academy Award nominations among its international cast, "Frida" not only secured a spot for Hayek but also set the foundation for many other multinational collaborations featuring Mexican talent, such as "Babel" (with Brad Pitt), "21 Grams" (with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn) and "Desperado" (with Antonio Banderas and Quentin Tarantino).