A great way to do some pre-trip research that doesn’t involve being in front of the computer, or even cracking a book is to watch some movies from the place you’re going. I’ve been living in Chile for a while now, and I periodically ask people what movies they think are seminal to understanding what’s going on around here. Not surprisingly, given the recent history of the country, two of these five top-recommended-by-Chileans-movies deal with the time either during or immediately after the dictatorship, released both in those times and as recently as 2004. Also looming large are a wholly farsical movie in which nearly everything can go wrong does, another movie that deals with social problems and how people perceive them, and then one that has sex as a central theme, both from the perspective of someone who is nearly obsessed,and a couple who is extremely repressed.
Below are five fairly modern movies chosen after talking to many Chileans, about what they think are the most important movies of recent times, with a short description of each. Feel free to comment about why you love or hate any of these movies, and would or wouldn’t include them on the list, and stay tuned for a version where I talk about some much older Chilean movies.
Five Must-See Chilean Movies (in no particular order)
Machuca: This movie shows a friendship between two boys from opposite sides of the economic spectrum who become friends at a Catholic school to which the poorer for the two boys is sent on a scholarship. It follows their friendship through the rise of social tensions and demonstrations as the Sept. 11th, 1973 golpe militar or coup is about to happen, with each boys’ family representing a different side of the political spectrum as well. It’s poignant, and probably one of the best-known and best-distributed Chilean movies of recent times. Trailer for Machuca here.
Caluga o Menta: This film is a documentary-style piece about a group of unemployed young people from poor neighborhoods in Chile. They fall into drugs and other ilicit activities and one of the member of the group finds love. It was released in 1990 just as the nation was returning to democracy from the dictatorship, and many Chileans probably feel strongly attached to it for that reason. See the trailer for Caluga o Menta here.
Taxi Para Tres: This movie gives rise to one of the most famous movie lines in Chilean history “Volante o maleta?” (Driver’s seat (steering wheel) or trunk?) posed to a taxidriver by two ne’erdowells (patos malos literally: bad ducks) who hijack his taxi to go on a crime spree around the city and eat alot of arrollado (a kind of lunchmeat) sandwiches. It’s a farsical movie, quite funny at times, though also violent and sad in places. Even if you speak Spanish, you’ll probably want to watch it with Spanish subtitles and a decent Chilean slang dictionary nearby. Short trailer for Taxi Para Tres here.
El Chacotero Sentimental: This movie is about a radio call-in show in which a series of Chileans call in with problems ranging from the ridiculous to the tragic and tell their stories to the main character (the chacotero), who guides them through telling their stories and gives some advice. Nearly everyone in Chile feels that this is an important movie to watch to understand the culture, as it shows a broad range of emotion and dealing with (or not dealing with) serious problems often with humor and/or denail. Click to watch the first segment of El Chacotero Sentimental.
Sexo con Amor: This movie is about Chilean sexuality, repressed and licentious at the same time. A schoolteacher talks to the parents about educating their children about sex, to varying degrees of success both inside and outside the classroom. The movie follows the individual stories of a few different characters and shows how each one of them either does or doesn’t take the teacher’s advice to heart. A clip from Sexo con Amor (with some rated R-content for language, if you understand Chilean slang).
Chasing down some of these movies with English subtitles may be challenging, but versions of all of them do exist, and are well worth it if you can get them. And if you can’t find them, then you’ll just have to keep watching as your Spanish improves. For more news about what’s going on in Chilean cinema go here.