It is difficult, very difficult, to condense in only 10 names the best Latin American film directors . Not only because all “ranking” is hateful, but because it involves many countries, with their distances and their similarities, but all with their own history marked by aesthetic experimentation, social denunciation, the struggle to conquer the general public at the box office – with foreign blockbusters always monopolizing the majority of theaters – and the search for their own language .
In spite of everything, the cinema of the 21st century has been marked to a great extent by Latin American directors. One proof of this is that the last seven Oscar statuettes awarded to the best director, five have been awarded to Latin American filmmakers (some won by double). Ok, it’s not like the Oscars are unequivocal proof of good cinema either (remember which movie won two years ago? Me neither), but it’s certainly a sign that filmmakers on this side of the world are talented, a lot .
Table of Contents
- Lucrecia Martel (Argentina)
- Alejandro González-Iñárritu (Mexico)
- Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico)
- Paula Hernández (Argentina)
- Guillermo del Toro (Mexico)
- Pablo Larraín (Chile)
- Sebastián Lelio (Chile)
- Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil)
- Claudia Llosa (Peru)
- Damian Szifron (Argentina)
In no particular order, these are the Latin American directors that captured my attention during the last two decades:
Lucrecia Martel (Argentina)
Know the rules and then break them. This phrase, hackneyed but accurate, seems to have marked Lucrecia Martel’s cinema from the beginning, a cinema that breaks any classical norm of dramatic structure and that, nevertheless, keeps the spectator hypnotized, dazzled.
In 2001 his debut feature, The swamp , which portrayed the decadence of a bourgeois family submerged in the inertia and intoxication of the Salta summer, received unanimous praise from the critics, and was awarded at the Berlinale and the Havana Film Festival. His next titles The holy girl (2004), The Headless Woman (2008) and Zama (2017), his most epic shoot to date, based on the novel by the writer Antonio Di Benedetto, repeat the feat: they create a disturbing, even overwhelming, but always fascinating atmosphere for the viewer. She is a director who constantly questions reality, but never in a predictable way.
Alejandro González-Iñárritu (Mexico)
Year 2000, the new millennium was just beginning and a movie would change everything. I’m not just talking about Mexican or Latin American cinema, Dog loves It was an international event that put ‘Negro’ González-Iñárritu in the sights of the big studios , along with the perfect duo made with the screenwriter and writer Guillermo Arriaga and then with the cinematographer Emmanuel lubezki .
Fragmented stories, united by fatality, where social differences strain the destinies of their protagonists: González-Iñárritu’s drive to cross stories would be replicated in his following tapes, 21 grams (2003) and Babel (2006).
With a reputation for being obsessive and perfectionist, continued directing major international stars in increasingly epic and ambitious productions such as Birdman (2014) shot in an “eternal” sequence shot that earned him his first Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture, and The Revenant (2015), filmed in natural locations in extreme climates, which gave him his second Oscar consecutively.
The rest is history.
Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico)
I can’t talk about Latin American cinema without mentioning Alfonso Cuarón, another of the great directors who won a couple of golden statuettes in Hollywood.
One year after Love Dogs , a film starring two young Mexican actors, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, and a Spanish actress, Maribel Verdú, would mark a generation: And Your Mother Too (2001), a roadtrip along the Mexican highways in search of a fictional paradise, a coming-of-age film co-written with his son, Carlos Cuarón, who won the best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.
After that, Alfonso directed other great films such as the third installment of the Harry Potter saga, the post apocalyptic epic Children of Men (2006), where he continued to display his impeccable technique in handling the camera and in the composition of the sequence shot that would take to another level with Gravity (2013), for which he would receive his first Oscar.
In 2018 it premiered worldwide on Netflix Rome , a black and white film that portrays his childhood through Cleo, a domestic worker. This time he would win all the awards with that intimate tape and in Spanish, including his second Oscar.
Paula Hernández (Argentina)
Although his professional career began in 1992 with the making of his first short film, Red , the name of Paula Hernández received the deserved attention of critics and viewers around the world for one of her latest films The Sleepwalkers (2019) the Argentine candidate for the Oscar who resonated loudly in the midst of a feminist revolution that decided not to keep silent any more and to break, once and for all, with the impunity that has protected abusers for so many years. In Hernández’s words,the trigger of The Sleepwalkers it was “her own motherhood”, thinking about the world of the family “from its most complex side, from the folds of horror “. It is a singular thriller, with the outstanding performances of Érica Rivas and Ornella D´Elía (mother and daughter) who, during a visit to the summer house of their paternal family, are involved in the labyrinths of the past and the dangers of the Present. It is the work of an essential filmmaker for this time.
Guillermo del Toro (Mexico)
I know, “another Mexican”, but it is impossible to talk about Latin American directors and ignore Guillermo del Toro.
Creator of sinister but captivating monsters and universes, del Toro returned our childhood terror with The Devil’s backbone (2001), made us believe again in fantasy in the face of the horror of war with The Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and portrayed the unconventional love between marginalized and violated beings in The Shape of Water (2017) with which he took … guess? Yes, the golden statuette of the most coveted little man in Hollywood.
That way of narrating tragedies from fantasy, always with extraordinary makeup and special effects, makes him one of the most relevant filmmakers of this era. Not to mention the long list of films he has produced, boosting the careers of other horror and fantasy directors such as Juan Antonio Bayona ( The orphanage , 2007) and Andrés Muschietti ( Mother , 2013).
Pablo Larraín (Chile)
A word: No . Pablo Larraín premiered in 2012 a film that narrates the propaganda odyssey of the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, where the opposition to the dictatorial regime of Pinochet had to call for a “negative vote” from the mass media, evading the denunciation of systematic violations of rights human rights and crimes against humanity to focus on the future, on a promise of better times, on a jingle optimistic and sticky that repeated the “Chile, joy is coming.”
With a cinematography vintage , reminiscent of the golden days of VHS, Larraín created an exceptional film with which he displayed his best qualities as a filmmaker: extraordinary handling of the camera and long shots, an enveloping soundtrack with a prodigious use of silences and intimate shots that portray the contradictions of his characters.
His next movies The club (2015), Nerud a (2016), Jackie (2016) and Ema (2019) consolidated their career, which transcends Latin American limits and has a clear global influence.
Sebastián Lelio (Chile)
Contemporary Chilean cinema has great wonders. Two of them are directed by Sebastián Lelio: Glory (2013) and A fantastic woman (2017).
Both films portray the lives of two women. The first of a 60-year-old divorcee who sets out to rediscover the enjoyment of life. The second of a transsexual girl who must confront the hatred of her recently deceased boyfriend’s family, in a society that does not guarantee her any rights.
Lelio masterfully manages to film these intimate stories with universal resonance, where the direction of the actresses and actors stands out, with memorable scenes inherited from magical realism, but without losing that almost documentary validity that shows the prejudices and complexities of Chilean society and without falling into sobering clichés. His cinema meets all the conditions of great works of art.
Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil)
Brazilian cinema deserves a separate top 10, thinking only of a filmmaker like Walter Salles and his multi-award-winning film Central Station (1998). But this mention does not go to Salles, but to another director who has proven to be one of the most interesting filmmakers of today: Kleber Mendonça Filho .
In his first feature film O Som ao Redor ( Neighboring sounds , 2013) demonstrated the virtues of its language: an approach to the most intimate spaces of Recife’s middle-class families and the links with domestic and security workers, links eroded by social and racial inequalities.
On Aquarius (2016) brings back to the great Sônia Braga to the Brazilian cinema to star in a thriller unique, where the monster is the real estate industry. His most recent film, Bacurau (2019) takes terror to the extreme, in a post-apocalyptic story where a people not only confronts state laziness but also a group of North American psychopaths who “hunt” humans as a sport of war.
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s cinema, with its slow camera movements and hypnotic zoom-in / zoom-out, is reminiscent of that golden age of cinema in the 70s, where authors such as Martin Scorsese or Sidney Lumet displayed the best virtues of the camera in favor of a great story that shows the decadence of an entire society.
Claudia Llosa (Peru)
The scared tit was one of those movies that everyone talked about in 2009. Her scenes of violence and her portrait of motherhood, amid the worst times of terrorism in Peru, aroused something in the sensitivity of many viewers, perhaps the need to see more stories from the perspective of women.
I say this not only because Claudia Llosa is its director and scriptwriter (in an industry where greater gender parity is still demanded), but because our region is traversed by violence and war, and at the center of these stories they tend to be the men.
Already in his first feature film, Madeinusa (2006), Llosa had managed to capture the attention of the world, with a style that transcends -and transgresses- genres and any type of conventions.
Damian Szifron (Argentina)
Argentina has given us great filmmakers like Juan José Campanella ( The Secret in Their Eyes ) and Luis Puenzo ( The official story ). If we think about these last two decades, Damián Szifron would be very close to those cinematographic “big leagues”.
Creator, director, editor and scriptwriter of the cult series The Simulators (2002-2004) ,his feature films have consolidated him as one of the best references in current Argentine cinema. Black comedy, social realism and some grotesque Creole, his films portray, like the bitter pleasure of mate, a good part of Argentine culture.
Titles like Brave time (2005) and Wild tales (2014) are already classics of Latin American cinema , with a style that varies between tense pauses and frenetic walks, always witty dialogue and the constant feeling of being near a bomb about to explode. Argentinity on the stick.
This count is not intended to be anyone’s absolute truth, not even mine, but rather an exploration of the prominent names and titles of contemporary Latin American cinema.
I hope you liked it. Let me know if you think there is another director who could not be missing from this list.