While Latin American films have engaged in transgressive examinations of heteronormativity since the first half of the twentieth century, there has been a resurgence of LGBTQ+ films from Latin American countries in recent years. Dubbed ‘New Maricón Cinema’ by film scholar Vinodh Venkatesh, this diverse body of work (starting from the turn of the century) is representative of the innovative artistic sensibilities of established as well as promising young filmmakers.
Sebastián Lelio, who received international acclaim after winning an Academy Award, said: “When we released it [A Fantastic Woman] in 2017, a gender identity bill had been dormant in congress for seven years. Somehow, the film’s release, and the year in which it became globally known, helped to reactivate the discussion in Chile…. the film simply changed the temperature. When we won the Oscar, we took it to former socialist president Michelle Bachelet.”
Adding, “She gave the bill what is technically called ‘extreme urgency’. A week later, a rightwing government came to power and reduced it to ‘simple urgency’. This is what we do in Chile – we administrate urgency. And now, just a couple of weeks ago, by an important majority, the gender diversity law has finally been approved.”
As a part of our weekly feature on world cinema, we explore the various explorations of New Maricón Cinema and its fascinating investigations of sexuality and gender identities.
10 essential ‘New Maricón Cinema’ films:
Burnt Money (Marcelo Piñeyro – 2000)
A competent adaptation of Ricardo Piglia’s novel, Burnt Money is based on the actual events of a bank robbery that took place in 1965. Set in Argentina, the film follows the plight of two gay lovers who get caught up in a massive heist.
Burnt Money received international attention and won several prestigious accolades. It was screened at major film festivals like the Toronto Film Festival and ended up winning the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.
Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón – 2001)
Undoubtedly one of the finest road films ever made, Y Tu Mamá También is a brilliant coming-of-age drama about the sexual awakening of a pair of best friends who embark on a life-changing trip. The film’s treatment of homoeroticism is gentle and nuanced, depicting how a heteronormative society engenders a culture of shame.
While talking about his experience, Cuarón reflected: “I learned there’s an amazing unexplored territory in terms of narrative. Before, I thought the unexplored territory was the form, the way you shoot a movie. Now, I’m learning about the beautiful marriage between form and narrative.
“I used to be very controlling with visuals and editing, and I would pretty much craft the performances; now I have learned to trust the material and the actors. On this film, what was so liberating was that everything was on the shoulders of the actors. That was great.”
Suddenly (Diego Lerman – 2002)
Diego Lerman’s intriguing comedy drama features a journey of self-discovery involving a salesgirl who suffers from low self-esteem. It perfectly captures the absurdity of youth and the importance of friendship in a bizarre world.
Lerman recalled his experiences of growing up during the military dictatorship era which shaped his artistic vision, “We were always moving because my parents were involved in the anti-military government movement. Among my relatives, some moved abroad, and some disappeared (killed), and I remember the fear and emotions which cannot be expressed in words. Looking at the pictures I drew in those days, I can see I was drawing what I was feeling in a closed world.”
Carandiru (Héctor Babenco – 2003)
Based on Dr. Drauzio Varella’s book, acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker Héctor Babenco creates a compelling document of the massacre that occurred in Carandiru Penitentiary. It won the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as the Audience Award at the Havana Film Festival.
Babenco stated: “I think that filmmakers are all the time more responsible for the society they live in. My responsibility is with the Brazilian public and not the American or European one. I make films that fit into my critical vision of the world. If it is successful in other markets then that is good because more people can see my point of view.”
XXY (Lucía Puenzo – 2007)
Lucía Puenzo’s riveting work follows the life of a teenaged intersex person whose identity itself becomes a subversive presence in the heteronormative framework of society. XXY received widespread critical acclaim, winning Critics’ Week grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival among other awards.
Puenzo explained, “I worked with doctors, geneticists, teachers, parents of children who were born with different diagnoses of intersexuality, and young adults who had or had not been operated when they were born. The time I lived in Paris, in the Cinéfondation, I contacted Alex Jurgen, a German intersex person who made a documentary of her life (Octopusalarm) in which, after of years of operations and taking hormones to become a man, Alex realises he will never be merely a man or a woman.”
My Straight Son (Miguel Ferrari – 2012)
Starring Guillermo García as a successful photographer in Caracas, My Straight Son provides insightful commentary on the pernicious effects of normalised homophobia and violence. It became the first Venezuelan film to win the Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.
Ferrari revealed, “In my country, this film is somewhat complicated because there was a lot of controversy. There is still a lot of prejudice regarding homosexuality, not only in Venezuela, but in Latin America and all over. I was concerned that Venezuelan cinema never touched the subject. There had never been a homosexual protagonist in the history of Venezuelan film. This is practically the first film to centre on homosexuality.”
Mosquita y Mari (Aurora Guerrero – 2012)
Auroro Guerrero’s 2012 coming-of-age film describes how wonderful and confusing it is to be young and in love. It tells the story of two high school girls who engage in a homoerotic bond, only to be pushed away from each other. Mosquita y Mari was ranked in the top 20 lesbian films of all time by Autostraddle.
“Breaking the silence around who my first love was while I was growing up was very liberating and healing. Coming from such a personal place also really gave the film that tone of realism,” Guerrero admitted. “What got hard was that in purging out a part of my life I was also purging a bunch of other things. Part of my learning curve as a novice screenwriter was peeling back the layers and getting to the core of the story.”
A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio – 2017)
One of the more popular entries on this list, A Fantastic Woman stars Daniela Vega as a young transgender singer whose existence is jeopardised by police and her boyfriend’s vindictive family members after his mysterious death. The film ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film among multiple other accolades.
The filmmaker said: “When you make a film, you’re trying to solve aesthetic challenges. You know that if you deal with these successfully, your film might find its space in the world. Making a film is like a gift you leave somewhere – you then hide and see what happens.”
I Miss You (Rodrigo Bellott – 2019)
An adaptation of his own theatrical work, Rodrigo Bellott’s 2019 drama follows the emotional journey of a father who travels to New York to interrogate his son’s boyfriend when he hears about his son’s death. It was nominated as the Bolivian entry for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards.
“I started making this movie because I thought my country was homophobic. And the fact my country chose it, knowing that it’s a gay film, it just flips my mind,” Bellott said in an interview with The Advocate. “You know, it says that some change has happened.”
Brief Story from the Green Planet (Santiago Loza – 2019)
This experimental sci-fi film is a surreal investigation of the possibility of extraterrestrial life and other mysteries of the universe. It follows a young transgender woman who teams up with her friends to take an alien back to its home. The film won the Teddy Award for the best LGBTQ-themed feature at the Berlin Film Festival.
Loza elaborated, “My desire to make a movie comes when I want to express something that can’t be done through words. I like writing plays, particularly, because of their literary aspect. So when you try to transpose that into film, it doesn’t translate correctly.
“What plays have given me over the years is the ability to write accessible work, which is something I wouldn’t have ever thought I could do. It would have horrified me to think I’d do that years ago, but I’m now excited about connecting with many people through film.”