The Skin I Live In (2011)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Most of the legendary filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s films are overflowing with warmth & color. They may touch on sensitive subject matter, but the characters within these stories are usually ones we like and want to be around. This is not the case with The Skin I Live In, Almodovar’s first foray into science fiction/horror. Instead, he has made a cold, desaturated movie that is beautiful in a dark & disturbing way. The film reflects how one of its central characters has become desensitized, literally feeling nothing any longer. Sex in this picture is not an act of love & beauty but discomfort & suffering. There’s no farce or melodrama here. Unlike the rest of Almodovar’s filmography, this is a work that comes out of a dark, angry place.
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The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Written by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Luis Buñuel is a director whose films are very well-known for being clever and witty critiques of the Spanish upper class. He’d been making movies for thirty years at this point, so you feel right away that you are in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing. At its core, The Exterminating Angel is Buñuel pointing out the ways human existence and its institutions are easily fallible. We’re currently living through a pandemic that has uprooted what we believed would protect us. The CDC reconfigures its metrics to make the United States appear as if it has passed through the COVID-19 crisis while people continue to be infected, reinfected, and horrifically die by the tens of thousands a month. America’s leadership comprises a mix of ancient relics and avaricious technocrats that feign calm while frantically hoarding resources for themselves and their wealthy friends behind the scenes. Buñuel was already familiar with this world decades earlier.
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Written & Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Memoria is difficult to talk about because it really isn’t a movie in how we typically define such things. It’s filmed on a camera, there are actors and a script, but in terms of narrative, it’s glacially slow. Memoria is a filmed meditation, and because of that, it can be frustrating at times. I know I didn’t enjoy my entire time with the picture, yet some moments took my breath away. I have to assume this is the desired outcome from the director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This is a movie about creeping existential dread that never allows its protagonist to fully define or name what is causing this feeling inside them.
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Written by Andreas Fontana and Mariano Llinás
Directed by Andreas Fontana
Something is wrong in Argentina. From the moment Azor begins, you feel disturbing things; the music and images hint at more sinister machinations at work. But on the surface, it seems…okay? The filmmakers have put their audience in the shoes of people attempting to navigate life under a dictatorship in Latin America. Azor is set in 1980 during the Dirty War when right-wing death squads scoured the country of anyone suspected of supporting socialism or other left-wing movements. This military junta killed between 9,000 to 30,000 people. Hard numbers are hard to get because so many of these people were disappeared overnight and never seen again, with no formal record of what happened to them.
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Parallel Mothers (2021)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar
At this point, can we acknowledge that Pedro Almodovar’s work exists in its own genre of cinema? The feel and look of all his movies are just so beyond everything else out there. He builds suspenseful narratives on premises that aren’t inherently thriller material. There is an ever-present sinister vibe, but ultimately his characters embrace the conflict and work through it, often forming makeshift families and coming to terms with the weight of the past. Almodovar clearly loves the stylish thrills of Hitchcock and the scandalous developments of telenovelas but also feels a need to address the history of Spain, especially war crimes and atrocities. The result is just unlike anything you will see anywhere else.
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Pain and Glory (2019)
Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar is no strange to autofiction in his cinema, that doesn’t mean he’s always factually honest with us. Almodovar is very much an impressionist, more interested in the emotions and underlying psychology of events in our lives. Pain and Glory is the most obviously autobiographical, Antonio Banderas playing a version of the aging director. This is a meditation on the physical changes that come with time, how our bodies are both vessels of pleasure and suffering during our lives. The structure is that of interconnected short stories, vignettes centered around the protagonist that allow him to reflect and reconnect with people from his past.
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Written by Alejandro Landes & Alexis Dos Santos
Directed by Alejandro Landes
Above the clouds, on a Colombian mountaintop, a small group of teenage commandos kills time while protecting their hostage, an American doctor. We are immediately thrust into a mythic, alien landscape in the opening frames of Monos. The music adds to the slow, foreboding atmosphere, hinting at the Lord of the Flies-esque finale that will inevitably come. This immediate move to set the mood is a brilliant choice and quickly brings us into this mysterious, strange world.
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Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019)
Written & Directed by Issa Lopez
It’s hard not to be struck with the influence Guillermo Del Toro has had on this film and a handful of contemporary Mexican cinema. Tigers Are Not Afraid is full to the brim with knowing nods to The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. While Del Toro often uses the past as a setting to examine his ideas of innocence and darkness, writer-director Issa Lopez chooses the contemporary cartel crisis as the stage for her story. My biggest problem when we compare these works is that Tigers Are Not Afraid has issues with pacing that cut through what should be white-knuckle tension. This is a story about children in peril, men chasing after them with the intent to kill, and there are a lot of moments where this feeling is not conveyed on screen.
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A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Written by Sebastián Lelio & Gonzalo Maza
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Grief is universal, an emotion while experienced as a result of certain life events; it has a profound resonance in our lives. You never feel grief is moderation; it cascades over you like waves leading you to feel as though grief may take you under. Being trans is not an experience we will all have; in fact, it’s estimated about 0.6% of the population is transgender. Trans people feel grief just like anyone else; they love and feel loss no different than any human being. A Fantastic Woman puts its protagonist in a universally-experienced situation, never ignoring what role her gender plays in the story, as a means to connect her to the very people in the film that seeks to undermine her grieving process.
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Los Espookys Season 1 (HBO)
Written by Fred Armisen, Ana Fabrega, & Julio Torres
Directed by Fernando Frias
There is nothing else like Los Espookys on television. From the opening of the first episode, a fast-paced series of scenes that introduces us to Renaldo at his sister’s quinceanera which he decorated in an all horror/goth theme to moment we see Andres’ shock of tightly cropped blue hair appear on screen we know that our protagonists will be odd, to say the least. The most normal of the Los Espookys crew is Ursula who is technically genius, yet she’s saddled with her little sister Tati, who is competing with Andres to become the most esoteric character to appear on television since Agent Cooper. This is a fully realized and specific world, like ours but slightly askew.
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