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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 9:50AM   |  4 comments
Danzon, by Maria Novaro

Lauro Zavala on Mexican Narrative Films

To continue our exploration and conversation about Mexican cinema, Lauro Zavala, cinema studies and literary scholar and the head of Sepancine in Mexico, has provided a list of ten must-see Mexican films produced in the past 20 years. 

"I should point out that I made this list having non-festival Mexican films in mind. By that I mean to say that these are some of the films that any viewer (anywhere) would surely be able to relate (intensely and personally) to," explains Zavala. " So I didn't include in this list any avant-garde or experimental film. Actually, some critics would think that the New Mexican Cinema is precisely this batch of movies that have attracted Mexican middle class viewers to movie theaters during the past 20 years, after a gloomy period of terrible bad taste, freezing violence, and weird characters."

Mexican Films and Genre

According to Lauro, this list features well-crafted film, with  strong stories and commentary about current daily life in Mexico. Some are historical (La ley de Herodes or Arráncame la vida). Some play  with humor or irony (Sólo con tu pareja, Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda, La ley de Herodes, or Sexo, pudor y lágrimas). Some are metafictional (Danzón, or Romelia), while  others are poetic (such as Esmeralda, Arráncame la vida, Danzón, or Amar te duele). Many of them are opera prima (first movie made), and  opened new routes for Latin American films.

For US based readers of this blog, all of these titles are available on DVD with English subtitles. Some of these films  are actually  produced and distributed in the US, so they are, ironically, exported from there to Mexico.
“More than half of these films (6 out of 10) are comedies or satires, because we Mexicans are very good at laughing at ourselves, “ Zavala points out.   “All of them are feature films, and have had a wide distribution and audience. Some of them are metafictional. All in all there seems to have a mixture of politics, comedy, and some romance. But all characters and situations are unmistakably Mexican.”

Look for future postings with Lauro’s suggested titles of experimental and documentary works, as well as an interview with James Ramey, who not only works on the Morelia International Film Festival, but is also a cinema studies scholar currently a visiting professor in the Humanities Department at the Metropolitan Autonomous University at Cuajimalpa in Mexico City
The Top Ten Must-See  Mexican Narrative Films


  • Sólo con tu pareja (available through Criterion) (Alfonso Cuarón, 1991)

          Complex comedy about aids with a sort-of happy ending

  • El secreto de Romelia (Busi Cortés, 1990)

         A political allegory about the roots of recent changes in Mexican society

  • Danzón (María Novaro, 1992)

         A somewhat romantic film with experimental POV and traditional music

  • Entre Pancho Villa y una mujer desnuda (Sabina Berman, 1994) 

         Comedy about an intellectual and his feminist wife

  • Esmeralda (Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1996)

          Metafictional romance about a woman with five loving husbands 

  • Amar te duele (2001)

         Nontraditional Romeo and Juliet through grafitti, comics, and urban violence

  • Los rollos perdidos de Pancho Villa (documentary) (2003)

          A documentary filmmaker travels worldwide in search for the lost reels of Villa

  • La ley de Herodes (1998)

         Political satire about the Mexican way to make politics  

  • Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (1998)

        Sexual comedy about three young yuppie couples
        (Brazil made a local version of this movie the following year)

  • Arráncame la vida (2008)

         Spectacular recreation of Mexico City in the 40s (politics, marriage, and music)

And...if you have other must-see Mexican films, please join the conversation in the comment section of this blog and add titles or links to film sources!


Thanks, Lauro, for the great list of films -- and thanks, Patty, for posting your interviews with him! I'm adding the titles to "my Netflix queue" (which really means that I'm going to ask my library to purchase copies of them, so that the students will have access to more titles).

I'm looking forward to your lists of documentaries and especially to your list of experimental film. What films of the classical era would you include? I used to include MARIA CANDELARIA in a survey of film history, which seemed to work well with the transnational threads that structured the courses, but I would be really interested to know what films from the 1930s through 1950s you would recommend.

Hi, Dale. Thank you for this comment. I am sending the lists you suggest, just in case this might be of any use to some other readers. It sure is an interesting exercise to make this kind of selection! I would like to know (in the future) how do these films work for your courses, as your experience must be quite different to that of teaching these films to Mexican students!

I have presented many of these films to foreign students who come to Mexico for a summer of "cultural immersion". They have been very receptive. And they have reacted with enthusiasm to the films of the first list I sent.

Thanks, Lauro! I'm looking forward to your lists of titles.

Hopefully, they will be available with English-language subtitles for teaching to students who might not understand Spanish. If not, then I can screen them myself and wait until I'm able to include them in classes. I have a huge list of similar films from all over -- like Mario Peixoto's LIMITE, which I've been looking for on DVD for years.

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