When we think of South American cinematography, we mostly refer to Brazil and Argentina and their excellent accomplishments. But other countries also have so much to offer and Bolivia is undoubtedly one of them. Unfortunately, due to a lack of marketing and advertising, many of these movies will never be seen outside their origin country.
We can find unforgettable and memorable Bolivian movies throughout many years, from comedies and dramas to crime and thrillers. Often inspired by true stories, Bolivian movies will definitely teach us a lot, but also make us laugh and cry and feel all those emotions a good movie makes you feel. This is the list of the 15 best Bolivian movies of all time.
Question de fe (A Matter of Faith, 1995)
This road movie is one of those that will make you laugh. It follows the story of two saint makers who get an order from a gangster to make him a statue of the Virgin Mary. He asks them to deliver it to a town in the jungle. This is when their journey begins.
Accompanied by a friend, who also happens to be an experienced gambler, they set off on a journey full of misadventures but one that will make them a question and test their faith in God and gambling.
Los Andes no creen en Dios (The Andes Don’t Believe in God, 2007)
This period drama is set in the 1920s in the adventurous mining town of Uyuni where we meet Alfonso, a young writer brought up in France. He decides to travel to this remote town in the middle of the Bolivian highlands, between the huge mountains and a salt desert. There he meets the beautiful and passionate Claudina, a woman of mixed race with whom he starts an affair.
Soon Alfonso decides to break up with Claudina, since local prejudice started swirling around the town. But there is something else in Uyuni, too, a strange magnetism between its inhabitants and the newcomer which will make all of them enter a circle of passion, frustration and ambition. The story between Alfonso and Claudina will take an unexpected turn.
La nación clandestina (The Secret Nation, 1989)
This is a drama about Sebastian Mamani, an indigenous man who returns to his Aymara community from which he was expelled many years ago. What awaits him there is a part of a repenting ritual he must go through if he wants to get back the respect of his tribe.
He will have to carry the great mask of death and dance until he gets completely exhausted, everything to atone for the sins he made, which eventually led to his exile. If he wants to be forgiven and accepted back and regain his cultural identity, he will have to accept more than he maybe expected.
El dia que murio el silencio (The Day Silenced Died, 1998)
This interesting romantic comedy-drama brings us the story of a young handsome entrepreneur Abelardo who arrives in the little town of Villaserena and begins with a radio broadcasting show “Radio Nobleza”. The town inhabitants now get the opportunity to share all their problems publicly, for a small sum of money.
It is pretty clear that they are going to honestly say everything they weren’t allowed until now and soon all their skeletons are going to be out of the closets, old feuds revived and secrets revealed. Among all these serious, but comic situations, Abelardo will meet a beautiful girl named Celeste and start a romantic relationship with her, which is also not going to be too simple.
Tu me manques (I Miss You, 2019)
This is a sad story about Jorge who travels to New York after the death of his son Gabriel. Jorge, coming from a conservative Catholic country and being the same, decides to face Gabriel’s boyfriend Sebastian who lives in the United States. Jorge never accepted his son completely, but this meeting will result in something very unexpected for him.
Sebastian will make a new play in honour of his tragically lost lover and channel his inner grief and disappointment with Gabriel’s father into it. When Gabriel accepts to watch the show, his inner turmoil will end up transformed in a gay fantasia.
¿Quién mató a la llamita blanca? (Who Killed the White Llama?, 2007)
This is a hilarious comedy about two indigenous Bolivians, a happily married couple who are also a pair of the most notorious state criminals. Jacinto and Domitila will embark on a journey of a lifetime after they decide to accept an offer to transfer 50kg of cocaine to the Brazilian border. They will travel through the jungles, cities, deserts and mountains of Bolivia and this adventure will test their relationship and question their future as criminals.
They start their journey disguised as farmers expecting a baby and hide the drugs in Domitila’s fake belly. But these two aren’t the only interesting characters here, since we also meet the two of the best Anti-narcotics officers in the country who are after them and the man behind the operation, known as El Negro, who is actually a blonde American with a big secret.
El cementerio de los elefantes (The Elephant Cemetery, 2008)
This depressing, but the extremely important movie is a fictional story based on a rare phenomenon. It follows a 33-year old alcoholic who hasn’t stopped drinking for almost twenty years. One day, he decides to admit himself to a special kind of hotel, named “Elephants Cemetery” where he will get enough pure alcohol to drink himself to death.
It is known that this illegal place really exists in the poor suburbs of La Paz and that it is really beloved by the capital’s alcoholics. This movie was a big hit, even though it wasn’t expected, with its low budget. But it also won several international awards, probably due to its controversial and intriguing topic.
El minero del diablo (The Devil’s Miner, 2005)
Although this is not a fictional story, but a documentary, it needs to be mentioned and put on the list, due to its powerful and very important story. It brings us the story of two young boys who spend their days working underground, in Potosi’s dangerous and notorious silver mines. The situation underground is serious, often threatened by natural forces and these boys try to do everything to survive their harsh days.
It is not unknown that there is traditional practice to offer cigarettes, cocaine and alcohol to the devil to be protected and have good fortune. This documentary was praised overall and won numerous awards, but the most important thing is that it brought attention to the issue of child labour.
Zona sur (Southern District, 2009)
This is the story of a rich society in Bolivia’s capital La Paz and the part of town they reside in, which is its Southern District. It happens during the time of social changes in the country and we follow the last days of an upper-class family. Everything seems to work out perfectly in their beautiful house, where they spend their days without major problems, hidden and safe in their beautiful bubble.
Several individuals live there, a divorced mother with her three spoiled children and their indigenous servants. But they all get along very well until their safe bubble starts slowly and unexpectedly deflating, through the day to day activities which get disrupted by internal and external forces.
El atraco (2004)
The first crime drama thriller on the list deals with social problems in Bolivia, more specifically corruption in one of their government institutions, the police. It is a story about a master plan that involves the theft of a huge sum of money from a bank truck. Two police inspectors are put on this case, brilliant, young and a bit naive Adolfo and his partner, Raul, a tough and experienced older policeman.
Since there is no progress in their investigation, Adolfo begins to question his partner’s honesty and figures out that Raul has somehow been involved in the robbery. Unfortunately, the police will show their true face when he tells the truth and he will learn what being honest and loyal actually means in these circles.
This slow-paced drama brings us the story of an elderly Quechua couple who live in the Bolivian highlands. They are facing an uncommonly long draught that will completely change their daily routine and make them think of their next move. What should they do, accept what nature and the environment give them or try and fight for those few more years they have in front of themselves?
This is a movie for an audience that has nothing against slow-paced stories, with not much dialogue and action in general. It will be a delight for the lovers of beautiful music and the ones who enjoy nature and love watching beautiful sceneries and landscapes.
Visa American (American Visa, 2005)
This is an interesting crime drama about a retired English teacher who becomes involved in a series of criminal activities after being denied an American visa. A story that is known to many Bolivian citizens who tried to migrate to the United States to live the American dream. Mario Alvarez is faced with the fact that he cannot afford the money for the visa and therefore needs to come up with a plan to raise.
He has a grand idea, despite the fact that he met a woman who doesn’t want him to move. This movie is already considered a Bolivian classic, mostly due to the brilliant directing by one of the Bolivian most talented directors, Juan Carlos Valdivia.
Yawar Mallku (Blood of the condor, 1969)
This crime drama stirred a lot of controversies when it got out since its director directly accused the U.S.Peace Corps volunteers to have been performing sterilisations of indigenous women of the Quechua ethnic group. It inspired protests around the country which ended in removing the Peace Corps from Bolivia altogether.
The story is told from the indigenous people’ perspective where they revealed many other forms of indecent behaviour towards them, especially their women. We learn about these actions through flashbacks, after we were already introduced to the outcomes of these ruthless actions.
Mi socio (My Friend, 1983)
This heartwarming and sad movie tells the story of a truck driver and a young shoe cleaner who travel together through Bolivia for five days. They are headed to La Paz in the Andes. In the beginning, the truck driver shows only his strong and strict side, treating the orphan boy only as his helper.
But the boy doesn’t want to be looked at that way. He wants to be respected and decides to change the truck driver’s behaviour and relationship towards him. His openness and sensitivity will slowly change their relationship and deepen their connection.
Ukamau (And so it is, 1966)
This is the first feature film ever produced in Bolivia, filmed in black and white, dealing with a difficult and bold topic for that time. It tells the story of an indigenous peasant woman who gets raped and murdered while her husband is on his way to the market.
When he finds out what happened he starts to plan his revenge in detail. This is another remarkable and important movie by one of Bolivia’s most appreciated and accomplished directors, Jorge Sanjines. It depicts the Andean peasantry and their living conditions and it was filmed exclusively in Aymara, an indigenous language.