By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Keep your Los Bravos shirt on.
Not only is our team doing great, but we are still in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month (It runs through October 15; it’s a little complicated).
There are hundreds of films I could recommend with a Hispanic heritage. Anything by Pedro Almodovar. Anything by Luis Bunuel. Anything by Guillermo del Toro. Alfonso Cuaron. Alejandro G. Inarritu.
But here are a handful of lesser known, randomly chosen titles you might want to check out:
“The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” (1982)
Part “Rashomon,” part Roy Rogers, this wonderful film about miscommunication and miscarriage of justice, set in turn-of-the-century Texas, is based on a true incident.
The plot centers on the pursuit (450 miles, 11 days) and capture of a Mexican farmer (Edward James Olmos) who inadvertently becomes an outlaw when a single misinterpreted word leads to his killing an Anglo sheriff.
A cinema verité fable, the movie’s artless immediacy turns Cortez’s story into a moving microcosm of the senseless misery engendered by prejudice and fear. Olmos gives a hauntingly powerful performance without speaking single word of English.
“Bye Bye Brazil” (1980)
A rag-tag troupe of performers who are losing their audiences to TV are our guides through 9,000 miles of a country in flux. The same peasants who used to believe coconut flakes were snow are now mesmerized by test patterns.
Ironically, the supposedly hardened pros (with names like the Lord Gypsy and Salome, Queen of the Rhumba) are the true innocents here. They try their hardest to pull off the same ol’ smoke-and-mirrors entertainment while, out in the middle of the Amazon jungle, an illiterate Indian woman listens to the Everly Brothers on her turquoise portable radio. A wonderfully winning little film that thrives on contradictions.
“Like Water for Chocolate (1982)
Yum. This exquisitely savory Mexican picture is a delectable fable of sauces and sorcery, banditos and ghosts, cream fritters and just desserts. Set in the early 20th-century on a sprawling ranch near the U.S. border, the film is about a young woman named Tita who’s literally born in a kitchen and then tied to her tyrannical mother’s apron strings by a family tradition that decrees the youngest daughter must never marry. Rather, she must devote her life to taking care of mom.
Relegated to the role of family cook while her sister marries her beloved, Tita becomes something of a kitchen magician. That is, whatever she’s feeling is channeled into whatever she’s cooking. The result is a “movie as magical as it is mouth-watering.
“The Official Story” (1985)
Sometimes the most enduring political statements are made without guns and banners. That’s the case with this quietly passionate film about the revolution that takes place in one woman’s consciousness. The setting is Buenos Aires, late 1983, after the ousting of a brutal military regime that dealt with dissenters by making them disappear. Many of the so-called “missing ones” are children, stolen from their politically undesirable parents and placed in more suitable homes.
However, the focus here is not on the missing, but the found. Our protagonist is a well-off teacher (Norma Aleandro) who comes to suspect her beloved adopted daughter may be one of the stolen children and forces herself to seek out the truth. A moving reminder of how close complacency can be to complicity.
An unsparing, unsentimental look at the brutalization of a Brazilian 10-year-old whose life in the juvenile homes and on the streets of San Paulo makes Oliver Twist’s workhouse look like a week on the Riviera. Little Pixote goes from heartbreak kid to hard case with horrifying ease.
His life of crime makes anguished sense because his life is a crime. He’s one of the children of paradise lost and you’re not likely to forget him or this draining, totally absorbing movie. And don’t be put off by the implied grimness. Sometimes the picture is terribly funny; the horrors are so commonplace the only possible response is laughter. A sickening footnote: the young star, Fernando Ramos da Silva, ended up involved in gangs and drug dealing and was killed, age 19, inside his home by the police.
Rest in Peace Illya Kuryakin/Duckie. (David McCallum)
Dumbledore, too. (Michael Gambon)