Recommended South American Films on Poverty

Los Colores de la Montaña (2010) Columbia

When Manuel receives a brand new soccer ball for his birthday, he is the envy of his friends—they like to play every day at the field near their school where class is often cancelled as there is only one teacher. As local tensions mount the local guerrilla fighters, seeking to prevent the militia from landing helicopters on the field, plant a minefield. The boys lose Manuel’s soccer ball in the field. The film follows their various harrowing attempts to retrieve the ball and the parents’ struggles to shelter their families from the violence.

Maria Full of Grace (2004) Columbia

Pregnant and struggling to get by, Maria travels with her best friend to Bogota after quitting her job preparing long stemmed roses. There they are hired as “couriers” to take cocaine from Colombia to New York. Along the way, you see a different, fallible side to the typical Colombian drug cartel narrative.


Hermano (2010) Venezuela

In La Ceniza slum, Julio and his adopted brother Daniel struggle against the forces of poverty and gang violence as they try to escape using their exceptional soccer skills. As Daniel comes ever closer to achieving his dreams, it seems that Julio’s immediate monetary interests (fueled by increasing involvement in crime) may come between these two brothers.

Trash (2014)

Based on the novel by Andy Mulligan Young, this film follows young trash pickers in Rio who find a wallet with cash, pictures, and a locker key only to find themselves chased by corrupt police attempting to recover the wallet and the dangerous political secret it unlocks. Shot on location and staring several local children, but with set-manufactured trash-heaps and a handful of hollywood actors the film, this film has been criticized for its optimism and gilded view of Rio’s slums, but praised for its energy and young talent.


Diarios de Motocicleta (2004)

This is a film dramatization of the journey of South American revolutionary and activist Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Fuser) took with a friend and biochemist, Alberto Granado (Mial), across the South American continent as a young man one semester from graduating with his medical degree. They set off from home in Argentina looking forward to both adventure and women, but they find difficulty for themselves and injustice for the poor, indigenous, and ill people that they meet along the way, changing both men profoundly and inspiring Ernesto Guevara’s activism. This view of the man who was and is controversial is, well, controversial in its own right for its lack of reference to Che the revolutionary in favor of the young, handsome, and naive “Fuser.”


Elefante Blanco (2012)

Fathers Nicolas and Julien work alongside social worker Luciana to try to do right in the slums in Buenos Aires, without becoming embroiled in a violent drug war. Looming over the the drama is the Elefante Blanco, an ill-fated skeleton of a hospital building commissioned to be built in the 30s but repeatedly resumed and abandoned over the years.


Pizza, Birra, Faso (1998)

Attempting to supply themselves with pizza, beer, and cigarettes, teenagers Megabom, Pablo, Frula, El Cordobes, and his pregnant girlfriend Sandra, are squatters in Buenos Aires who rob taxi riders. Their crimes go awry as they begin to try to steal their way into a more stable lifestyle. The tagline for the movie: “Four friends. One city. Only one way out.” This one one of the first films of its kind to employ local, untrained actors.


Gerónima (1986)

Based on the true story of Gerónima Sande, a Mapuche woman, who is taken along with her children into a mental hospital when the family is found to be living in extreme poverty in their remote home in Patagonia. After coming to little evaluation, Gerónima and her family are released back to living in squalor. I was unable to find any clips or trailers–let alone with English subtitles, but the entire film is on YouTube. Even if you don’t know the language, the images are very stark and the drama is relatively obvious.


–Paige Eggebrecht

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