In 2017, Colombia produced 49 movies, compared to 220 in Argentina and 160 in Brazil.
Due to the lower revenues from box office sales, it’s challenging for directors to make it to the international stage.
Despite these constraints, however, Colombia’s had some important international recognition in the last few years.
Below, I’ve given a top 3 best Colombian movies, followed by extras for those keen to discover more.
The embrace of the serpent is a fictional story based on the travel diaries of two explorers; that of German ethnographer Theodor Koch-Grünberg and American botanist Richard Evans Schultes (who is mentioned in the book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice in my blogpost Best books of 2020). The two men are looking for the same thing, the medicinal plant yakruna, but for a different reason. Theo fell ill during his trip and needs the plant to heal. On the other hand, Richard is trying to follow in Theo’s footsteps with the sole purpose of finding the, now (30 years later) rare plant.
Aside from the route, the scientists also have their guide in common, a shaman named Karamakate. Through Karamakate, who functions as the link between these two stories (in 1909 and 1940), El Abrazo de la Serpiente demonstrates how the jungle has changed at the hands of scientists, missionaries, and rubber barons. The movie shows stunning views, mysticism, and adventure on the one hand, but enslavement, suppression, and deterioration of cultural heritage on the other. The interactions between Theo and Karamakate beautifully illustrate the contrast and paradox of ‘advancement.’ At one point, Theo does not want a tribe to have his compass because they’ll lose their knowledge around navigation. The shaman, in response, asks Theo who gives him the right to decide between what’s right and wrong. The Embrace of the Serpent subtly discusses many complex social issues and can be rightfully called one of the best Colombian movies.
IMDB Rating: 7.9 – You can find the trailer here
The young Spanish orchestra conductor Adrián receives a video message from his girlfriend telling him she wants to break up. Shortly after, his girlfriend disappears. The police bring in Adrián as the main suspect but can’t find any proof to arrest him. Because of everything that happened, Adrián starts spending his nights in a bar. He develops a romantic relationship with the barmaid Fabiana and the two fall in love and move in together. Although happy to be with her new lover, Fabiana feels uneasy in the house that belonged to Adrían and his ex-girlfriend. She hears strange noises and starts to suspect the house is haunted. Can it be that the ghost of Adrián’s ex-lover is jealous of his new partner? Fabiana decides to investigate further, and the truth slowly unfolds. The Hidden Face is an exciting thriller and keeps you at the edge of your seat.
IMDB Rating: 7.4 – Check out the trailer
Ignacio Carrillo, played by the real-life vallenato musician Marciano Martínez, is a juglar from Majagual (Sucre) who plays the accordion. The story goes that the instrument is cursed after its former master won a duel with the devil. Ignacio is tired of a musician’s nomadic lifestyle and decides to return to the accordion to lift the curse. He embarks on a journey and is joined by Fermín, a young boy who hopes to become a musician one day. Through the Caribbean region in Northern Colombia, the two travel from their village to Taroa (in the La Guajira Desert).
Their expedition shows an incredible variety of the beauty that Colombia’s landscapes have to offer and many regional traditions. The ultimate highlight is Carrillo participating in the Vallenato Legend Festival in Valledupar (a traditional version of a rap battle). The Wind Journeys presents the viewer with a beautiful pallet of cultural diversity from the director’s birth region. What makes it even more astonishing is that the protagonists had no former acting experience. It also took a year to get buy-in from the Arawak from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
IMDB Rating: 7.4 – This is the trailer
One of the most successful directors to put Colombian movies on the international movie stage is Ciro Guerra. Despite financial limitations and a lack of support, Ciro produced stunning works like The Embrace of The Serpent and The Wind Journeys. His movies are adventurous, mysterious and include many different (indigenous) tribes. These three elements can also be found in his other works.
If you already watched his two movies above, I suggest checking out the Netflix series Frontera Verde and his movie Pajaros de Verano. Frontera Verde is a mini-series about two detectives investigating the mysterious death of 4 young girls in the Amazon jungle. The series stars some of the same actors as The Embrace of the Serpent and contains similar themes but has a higher paste and more focus on the action. Pajaros de Verano is a beautiful movie in line with his other two films. This work tells the story of a drug war destroying the lives and culture of an indigenous tribe.