When it comes to the world of cinema, Hollywood is the to-go place of many for high-quality content. However, if you ever venture beyond the Hollywood territory, you’ll be surprised by the number of thought-provoking and entertaining films that will bring you an experience no less satisfying.
Since the end of the 20th century, Hollywood has noticed the vast opportunities for adopting movies from culturally rich countries, such as Spain. This resulted in Spanish actors, such as Javier Bardem, Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz starting to appear more often on the big screen, hence turning more and more attention toward Spanish movies.
From comedies to thrillers to dramas, the catalog of top-shelf films is large, so it’s difficult pick out the best representative of Spanish movies. The following entries aren’t necessarily the most popular or critically acclaimed films, but they give an overall picture for you to compare and contrast with mainstream cinematic productions.
As a bonus, you can practice your Spanish while watching these movies and make your college professor proud. Without further ado, vámonos!
1. “La Mala Educación” (Bad Education)
Pedro Almodóvar is arguably the most well-known and prolific Spanish director. Spanning over several decades, his body of work has been the topic of analysis and scrutiny by those who are passionate about film.
With similar themes and often repeating cast members, his productions can be put in the same vein as Wes Anderson’s: colorful and complex. As an auteur, he takes full creative control and adds his own special sauce to every finished product. Unfortunately, he has so many interesting features that makes picking only one representative quite difficult.
“La Mala Educación” is one of Almodóvar’s darkest works since it deals with a strongly controversial subject, namely sexual abuse and pedophilia. Starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, the movie follows two childhood friends who reunite decades after initially falling in love in Catholic school.
Through their rekindled relationship, the viewers get to find out about their difficult past and how it shaped them. Sexually charged and flamboyant as most Almodóvar films, “La Mala Educación” hides beyond a mystery of clever and organic twists that are masterfully delivered through top-notch performance.
2. “El Cuerpo” (The Body)
Murder thrillers come and go frequently as there’s little innovation in the genre nowadays. Nevertheless, Oriol Paulo’s film is timeless gem in this film category.
Led by veteran actor José Coronado, the powerful Belén Rueda and up-and-coming Hugo Silva, the story surrounds a man and the disappearance of his recently deceased wife’s body. Using flashbacks to piece together what’s going on, the bulk of the film follows the police investigation and the husband’s growing potential as the prime suspect.
Both Belén Rueda and José Coronado deliver strong performances as the intense wife and the truth-seeking detective respectively. In addition to that, the director also takes his time to plant the seeds that eventually grow into a satisfying conclusion.
While twist endings have been done over and over, this one definitely comes out of nowhere and has it all to leave audience’s speechless. The film is worth watching even just to challenge yourself to figure out the twist before the final minutes, making it a fine addition to modern Spanish movies.
3. “Crimen Ferpecto” (The Perfect Crime)
Black comedies aren’t hard to come by in the American film landscape. Even so, it’s a bit tougher for foreign productions in this genre to gain public appraisal, most likely due to language barriers since jokes, references and even the humor style can be lost in translation.
“Crimen Ferpecto,” however, is an exception thanks to writer and director Álex De La Iglesia. Through a romantic relationship, he manages to draw the audience in with likable characters and a thriller subplot.
The film follows Miguel, a womanizing department store associate, and his accidental murder of a rival colleague. Unfortunately for him, Lourdes, an unattractive co-worker, witnessed the entire conflict and helped him get rid of the body.
Consequently, she blackmails him into starting a toxic romance with her. The comedy comes from Miguel’s contempt for Lourdes, and the mystery comes from how far the charade of a romance can go on before Miguel loses his mind.
4. “Celda 211” (Cell 211)
Co-writer and director Daniel Monzón swept the Goya Awards with wins for best film, director, actor, supporting actress, breakthrough actor, among others, for his film “Celda 211.” As Monzón tells the story of Juan, a prison guard who is forced to pose as an inmate to survive a prison-wide rebellion, he paints to the viewers how hard life behind bars is, especially if you’re not even supposed to be there.
The rebellion, masterminded by Malamadre, will turn increasingly violent, political and even personal for poser Juan. In line with the Stanford prison experiment, this is a narrative about how the cruel setting of a prison can change even the most principled man into a violent and evil one.
It’s haunting, well made and filled with memorable characters. Both Alberto Ammann as the conflicted Juan and Luis Tosar as the violent Malamadre deliver once-in-a-lifetime performances and make “Celda 211” an engaging prison film.
5. “El Bola” (Pellet)
Compared to the other entries, “El Bola” is subtler and less complex in terms of story. Even so, this doesn’t stop it from being a compelling and thought-provoking little drama.
Director Achero Mañas’ featured debut deals with the relationship between two schoolboys and their contrasting family lives. Their friendship evolves beautifully from child play to a life-long bond as they go through hard times together, one of which is the secret of Bola’s domestic abuse.
Lead actor Juan José Ballesta gets all the praise for his portrayal of Bola, a child living in a toxic family environment. The role earned the youngster the Goya Award, the Spanish equivalent to the Oscars, for best new actor.
His counterpart, Pablo Galán, also does a fine job playing Alfredo, the loyal buddy with a welcoming family. While not groundbreaking by any means, “El Bola” is a tale about having people in your life who care about you and will help you through life’s sourest moments.
6. “El Espinazo del Diablo” (The Devil’s Backbone)
If there’s a Spanish name in the movie industry that most people are familiar with, it will be Guillermo Del Toro, who is well known known for his visually stunning fantasy and horror films.
Before he becme famous for modern hits, such as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy” or last year’s “The Shape of Water,” he immersed himself in the Spanish cinematic community with “El Espinazo del Diablo.” His fascination for the Spanish Civil War is ever present here as it serves as the background to the story of the orphan children and adults at Santa Lucía’s school.
The adults at Santa Lucía’s school have to deal with living in a war-torn, politically divided country. For the children, led by rivals Carlos and Jaime, they must cope with the supernatural presence of a boy who died at the school.
Despite the element of horror and the presence of the despicable villain Jacinto, the film presents viewers with many heart-warming character, such as the lovable Dr. Casares. The horror, therefore, only fosters the theme of mending a community together in the face of challenges. If you’re a fan of his more popular work, “El Espinazo del Diablo” is a good way to visualize how the director has grown through the years.
Overall, Spanish movies are still not mainstream enough to fill American theaters, but they certainly are of a quality that can please any movie buff. Some of the many top films coming from the land of paellas, but unfortunately, these films are not easy to find for the modern streamer.
Although you may purchase or rent some of them digitally, the best way to find them is to look at your local libraries and even your school libraries. DVDs may be considered old school now, but the films are worth the trouble digging through piles of dusty materials. Beyond that dust awaits you a wondrous adventure.