Arriving on Blu-Ray and DVD on 13th February, provocative and gruesome horror We Are the Flesh is the latest movie from director Emiliano Rocha Minter. Engulfing viewers in a nightmarish and surreal world, whereby two siblings find themselves manipulated by a terrifying stranger, it’s controversial Mexican cinema in every sense of the word.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Few images are seared onto viewers’ minds as vividly as the eyeball being sliced in Luis Bunuel’s groundbreaking surrealist classic (in reality it was a cow’s eye, not a human’s). But in truth the Spanish filmmaker’s trendsetting collaboration with Salvador Dali is filled to the brim with all other manner of striking imagery that left a lasting impact on all subsequent art house movies to follow.
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
One of Bunuel’s most pointedly satirical movies, part of a trilogy starring noted Mexican actress and politician Silvia Pinal, this highly surreal look at the human condition is hailed today as one of the filmmaker’s finest. Interpreted by Roger Ebert as an allegory for Franco’s Spain, in truth it’s impossible for one single meaning to be ascribed to such a daring, pioneering piece of cinema.
Simon of the Desert (1965)
Bunuel’s tempestuous relationship with his home nation of Spain saw him vacillate between that country and Mexico. Having returned to the former to direct Viridiana, such was the ensuing scandal over the movie he was then compelled to return to exile in Mexico again for this surreal story inspired by 5th century Syrian saint Simeon Stylites, famous for spending nearly 40 years atop a column.
El Topo (1970)
The godfather of Mexican surrealism, Alejandro Jodorowsky, is often credited with helping to popularise the appeal of the ‘midnight movie’: inscrutable, philosophical cult works screened at the appropriate hour to be chewed over and devoured. El Topo is loaded with all manner of symbolism, iconography and poetic magic, hallmarks that course through all of the director’s work from the subsequent Holy Mountain (1973) to the most recent, Endless Poetry.
Santa Sangre (1989)
One of Jodorowsky’s most intensely personal and disturbing works, this avant-garde midnight piece is given an added personal boost by the fact that his son Adan plays the younger incarnation of central character, Fenix. A blend of circus drama and graphic mutilation mixed with a coming-of-age story (told in flashback and flash-forward), the movie’s explicit nature landed it with an extremely limited US theatrical release and the dreaded NC-17 certificate.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Before he went unbearably soft-centred with the Keanu Reeves mushfest A Walk in the Clouds, noted director (and one-time Wild Bunch bit player) Alfonso Arau delivered what many consider the definitive Mexican film of its era (adapted from his ex-wife Laura Esquivel’s novel). A dreamlike fable of star-crossed romance and delicious cooking, its gently offbeat nature landed it a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Movie.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
As a filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has always proven adept at crafting worlds on-screen, from A Little Princess to Harry Potter, Children of Men to Gravity. His best movie is this: a racy, sexy coming of age homegrown road movie centering on the relationship between two horny teens and an older woman, using a disassociated voiceover and ethereal long takes to paint everyday life as the most surreal odyssey of all.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Truly one of Mexico’s finest exports, Guillermo del Toro has veered between his more personal Spanish-language works and lavish Hollywood spectacle. His 2006 fairy tale fantasia remains his finest, most personal movie, a troubling fable crossed with the brutality of the Spanish Civil War that compels us to choose: is there a possibility of redemption in a magical realm, or are we destined to remain in a coldly brutal human world? The spirit of del Toro’s towering predecessors, from Bunel through Jodorowsky, loom large over what is arguably his masterpiece.