Over the last two decades the Venezuelan film industry has been experiencing an awakening, and today the popularity of the country’s striking feature films continues to rise. Not only do these films expose the rich cultural heritage at the heart of Latin America, but also the social divisions and regional issues that continue to reign supreme in modern Venezuela. Below are ten of the best films that originate in this glorious country.
The Zero Hour – 2010
Hyped as the highest-grossing local film on Venezuelan soil, in this gritty, whirlwind heist movie audiences are given an insight into the buzz at the heart of Caracas. The Zero Hour imprints itself on Parca, a notorious hit man who is forced to take an elite hospital hostage in order to save his girlfriend. As the police descend to arrest him, he somehow becomes an unlikely hero and a symbolic martyr for the poor, suddenly dividing a whole nation as violence spreads like wildfire through Venezuelan communities. For those who adore action, this chaotic love story will not disappoint.
My Straight Son – 2012
My Straight Son presents us with the story of Diego, a young photographer involved in the opulent world of fashion and excess. However, when tragedy strikes, leaving his partner in a severe comatose state, he must take care of his son, learning to adapt to his needs whilst the young boy makes sense of his father’s homosexuality. Dealing with issues such as homophobic violence, transsexualism and domestic violence, Miguel Ferrari’s feature caught the jury’s attention and went on to win the highest distinction of Best Ibero-American Picture at the Spanish Cinema Academy’s Goya Awards.
A mother encounters apparitions in her old house in this suspenseful Venezuelan horror film, directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. With one of the best cast ensembles working in the country today, this is a movie that will keep you hooked from the very start. As the highest grossing thriller of all time in Venezuela, it continues to shock audiences with its innovative plot twists and its hard-hitting emotion. For a classy, supernatural thriller, you cannot go wrong with The House at the End of Time.
Maroa – 2005
Maroa exudes a very rich Hispano-Venezuelan tone and exposes the troubling reality of the world of the ‘ranchos’ in Caracas. The plot follows the life of a young girl living in the squalor of the crime-infested city, where even children carry weapons to defend themselves. Maroa is a product of this atmosphere and the European director of the film explores the despair associated with violence, human trafficking and drugs. Even the fact that the script is ridden with slang, making it slightly more difficult to understand, adds to the effect of this hard-hitting story line.
Brother – 2010
Brother, or Hermano, is a drama that premiered at the Moscow International Film Festival in 2010. Set in Caracas, one of the most dangerous cities in the whole world, this is a story of two young men raised as brothers who turn to soccer to escape their poverty-stricken existence in the city’s slums. When a football scout arrives in town, opportunities arise just as tragedy strikes. Exploring the themes of family, revenge and aspirations, Brother is one of the most inspiring movies to come out of South America.
Express Kidnapping – 2005
Secuestro Express, otherwise known as Express Kidnapping, is a socio-political thriller that provides audiences with a glimpse into the class issues at the heart of modern Venezuelan society. Interestingly, it is inspired by the recent rise in kidnappings in South America and focuses on a wealthy young couple, who are taken for ransom by three criminals who insist on payment within two hours. The tension and riveting plot line leave you feeling like a hostage yourself. This incredibly tense drama is a must-see, if only for its good measure of social commentary.
Araya – 1959
The 1959 Venezuelan-French documentary Araya portrays the lives of laborers working by the sea off a peninsula in the South American country. Extracting salt from the water is a traditional source of income for thousands of men and women in the area, and is often undertaken in hostile conditions. Capturing extraordinary images of these communities and their 500-year-old archaic methods of work, the documentary focuses on their struggle with industrial exploitation. The documentary was entered into the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, and is worthy of your attention.
El Pez que Fuma – 1977
Regarded by many as the peak of Venezuelan cinematography, El Pez que Fuma, or The Smoking Fish, takes place in a brothel and is a story of how power and influence is passed down through generations. Exposing the harsh social reality of the country, the movie profiles the individuals that live within it, giving us a glimpse into typical aspects of the culture as well as the struggles of this society in the 1970s. For many cinephiles, the popularity of the movie made Venezuelan movie history, and it continues to be regarded as one of the finest examples of filmmaking that the country has to offer.
Bad Hair – 2014
Junior is a nine-year-old boy who has hair ridden with stubborn curls. Wanting to straighten it for his school’s yearbook picture, his mother struggles with tolerating his fixation on his hair. Bad Hair, or Pelo Malo, is directed by Marian Rondón and brings to light fraught relationships between parents and their children. In addition, the movie succeeds in providing audiences with a glimpse of the chaotic society in which this young child is growing up, and slowly realizing what it is exactly that makes him different. An accomplished piece of realist filmmaking, Bad Hair has plenty to say about social constructs, hypocrisy and tough love.
Oriana – 1985
Directed by Fina Torres, Oriana is set in a typical hacienda and follows the story of Maria, a young woman who returns to a house in which she lived temporarily as a girl. There, she discovers troubling secrets about her reclusive aunt, who passed away and left the property to her. Commonly referred in Venezuela as a Gothic love story, the dark atmosphere of the feature won it an accolade for best first feature at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.