Chilean cinema has come into its own the last 20 years. Chileans films have increasingly been shown and praised at international film festivals. Chile Today takes a look at 10 of the most well-known and well-received since 2000.
A Cab for Three (2001)
Dir. Orlando Lübbert — 6.9/10 IMDb
This black comedy won the Golden Shell for Best Film at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
It skirts the line between comedy and tragedy, painting a morally grayscale image of modern Chile. It stars Alejandro Trejo as Ulises Morales, a cab driver in Santiago whose car gets hijacked as a getaway vehicle by two criminals, played by Daniel Muñoz and Fernando Gómez-Rovira. Ulises must choose between becoming their hostage or their accomplice. Offered an equal split of the spoils, Ulises joins their criminal antics.
According to a review by Sheila Johnston for ScreenDaily, the film “paints an unsentimental portrait of people on the breadline who live in a culture defined by greed but still fight to retain a modicum of personal dignity.”
Dir. Andrés Wood — 7.7/10 IMDb, 89% Rotten Tomatoes
“Machuca” was nominated for Best Iberoamerican Film at the 2004 Ariel Awards. The film won Most Popular International Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival in the same year.
Experience Chile’s coup d’état through the eyes of a child. Set in 1973, the film follows the friendship between two 11-year-olds who come from wildly different backgrounds. Gonzalo Infante (Matías Quer) is an upper-middle class boy who lives in an affluent neighborhood. Pedro Machuca (Ariel Mateluna) is an underprivileged boy who lives in an illegal village nearby. The two become friends when Pedro is accepted into Gonzalo’s private school as a part of a scholarship program by idealist priest Father McEnroe (Ernesto Malbran). The boys’ friendship is explored and tested against the backdrop of great civil unrest and political clashes.
A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times that the film illustrates “the discovery that you are powerless to protect the people you care about from harm, and also powerless to protect yourself against the shame of your own failure.”
The Maid (2009)
Dir. Sebastián Silva — 7.3/10 IMDb, 93% Rotten Tomatoes
This critically-acclaimed film won the World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic) at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Awards, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Golden Globes, and garnered many other nominations and awards.
Catalina Saavedra plays Raquel, a woman who has worked as a maid for the same family for over 20 years. When she begins to suffer from dizzy spells, the family suggests that they hire another maid to help her. Adamantly opposed to the idea, Raquel continually makes increasingly daring attempts to drive away the new hires. This psychological drama explores a woman’s desperate effort to remain in her hidden position of authority.
Peter Bradshaw wrote for The Guardian that Saavedra gives “a great star performance, reason enough on its own for seeing this.”
Nostalgia for the Light (2010)
Dir. Patricio Guzmán — 7.6/10 IMDb, 100% Rotten Tomatoes
“Nostalgia for the Light” won Best Documentary at the European Film Awards. It was also among the Official Selection for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Documentary Screenplay.
The documentary recounts the lasting impact of Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. It explores the lives of the Chilean women who continue to search through the desert for the remains of their lost relatives. Guzmán compares their efforts to the work of astronomers, as both are obsessed with the idea of the past. Just like the stars, the women are looking at what is already dead. Guzmán himself narrates the documentary and includes interviews from those who were greatly affected by the dictatorship. As opposed to recounting what happened during this period of Chilean history, Guzmán chooses to focus on the aftermath and how the memory of what happened continues to live on in the daily lives of many people.
David Parkinson for Empire Online called the documentary “[a] truly insightful art film that still manages to be easy-going and unpretentious.”
Dir. Pablo Larraín — 7.4/10 IMDb, 94% Rotten Tomatoes
This historical drama focuses on the period of time in the lead up to the 1988 referendum in Chile which would decide whether Pinochet would become a democratically-elected President following his time as dictator.
René Saavedra, played by Gael García Bernal, is a man with a successful career in marketing who is approached by the “No” campaign to create political advertisements in support of their cause. Saavedra formulates a plan to use the theme of “happiness” into winning over the Chilean public to vote against Pinochet, even as their advertising agency increasingly becomes threatened by government forces.
Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian called the film, “simple and direct, heartfelt and involving.”
Dir. Sebastián Lelio — 6.8/10 IMDb, 99% Rotten Tomatoes
“Gloria” was nominated for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film at the 2014 Goya Awards. It premiered at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival and won the Silver Bear for the Jury Award and Best Actress.
Paulina García stars as Gloria Cumplido, a 58-year-old divorcee who begins a love affair with an older man she meets at a disco. The feel-good plot takes the audience on a journey with this woman who wishes to take back her life on her own terms.
“The movie’s a toast to its subject, a boogie in her honor, and takes her side through thick and thin” — Tim Robey, The Telegraph.
Dir. Pepa San Martín — 6.7/10 IMDb, 100% Rotten Tomatoes
“Rara” won Best Fiction Feature at the 2016 Pedro Sienna Awards and won the Generation Kplus International Jury Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in the same year.
The film depicts a healthy homosexual relationship from the perspective of a child. It tells the story of a young girl named Sara (Julia Lubbert) who navigates the complexities of school life as a 12-year-old while living with her mother and her mother’s female partner, of whom her father disapproves. It demonstrates that sometimes the “villain” of a story is only acting in a particular way out of the best interests of their loved ones, even if they do not understand that it is not.
Dennis Harvey, writing for Variety, wrote that the film possessed an “elegant confidence” and showed “a vivid depiction of how half-truths can incite the fearful imagination, which in turn can exploit the legal process and social biases to break up entire households.”
A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Dir. Sebastián Lelio — 7.2/10 IMDb, 93% Rotten Tomatoes
This film earned many awards following its release and was the first Chilean film to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2018. It premiered at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and won the Teddy Award and the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. It also won Best Iberoamerican Film at the 2018 Goya Awards.
“A Fantastic Woman” tells the story of Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman whose older lover, Orlando, dies suddenly due to a brain aneurysm. Orlando’s family openly express their transphobic beliefs towards Marina and prevent her from attending his funeral. Marina persists throughout the film as a symbol of resilience and continues to exist as her authentic self in the face of constant microaggressions.
Writing about the film in The Guardian, Mark Kermode argues that “The film’s story may be firmly rooted in everyday reality, but there is a fable-like quality to its telling that adds a layer of transcendence.”
Dir. Pablo Larraín — IMDb 6.7/10, 83% Rotten Tomatoes
“Ema” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9.
Gael García Bernal once again unites with director Pablo Larraín to star in a contemporary drama about a broken family. Set in Valparaíso, the narrative of the film follows a couple’s attempt to deal with an adoption gone wrong. The young boy, who they end up returning to the adoption services, committed an arson attack which left the protagonist’s sister with a scarred face. Processing her apparent failure as a mother, the eponymous protagonist must come to terms with her failing familial relationships.
Dir. Andrés Wood — IMDb 6.8/10
The film is confirmed to be Chile’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards.
This thriller intertwines the past with the present in a film about politics, love, and secrets. Mercedes Morán plays Inés, a woman who, in her youth, was a member of a right-wing militant group who sought to overthrow Allende’s presidency. In present day, Inés is a confident business woman who keeps her past hidden from those around her, except for her equally ex-militant husband. When a former fling reappears after many believed him to be dead, past reunites with present and Inés does everything in her power to keep him from revealing her past.
Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Jonathon Holland calls “Spider” an “elegantly told tale” where “the past haunts the present with a potent literalness.”
This list, of course, is not the be-all and end-all for Chilean cinema, but simply an introduction to the diverse world of Chilean films. The industry keeps growing and continues to impress the international community on a large scale.