Traveling in the Hispanic countries south of Texas was for me a matter of crossing a linguistic rampart close to home. It was not just the embrace of a less familiar language, but it was the challenge of understanding the terminology. Immediately, it seemed necessary to grasp the terms Mesoamerica and mestizo. The ethnocultural realm of Mesoamerica stretches from just above Mexico City down to the edge of Panama, and it is within this territory that most of the great ruins of the ancient Americas are found. Panama was a wet and insignificant isthmus joining Central America to South America until the Spaniards came and saw its potential as a link between the Atlantic and the Pacific. There is no movie about Balboa. The arrival of the Spaniards laid the foundations for a racially mixed “mestizo” culture, found all the way to the tip of South America.
Exiting Central America through Panama, there is a fork in the road that leads to a choice between two different worlds. To the southeast is the great Amazon Basin, and to the southwest is the Andes Mountain range reaching far down the coast. Taking the route to the Amazon leads ultimately into Brazil, a former Portuguese colony. Really, there are two Brazils. One is the great rain forest expanse of Amazonia with its river flowing 4000 miles into the Atlantic, and the other is the vibrant mestizo culture to the south, centered in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
South of Portuguese-speaking Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, just on the other side of Uruguay, is Spanish-speaking Argentina, which today covers most of the bottom third of the continent. Contrasting the cities of Rio and Buenos Aires is a study in the individualized cultures of the major countries in South America. There are books and movies that serve this perception, most notably the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Columbia and Jorge Amado (say Zheorge) in Bahia. A few richly evocative movies have been made from the works of both authors.
The route along the west coast of South America leads through Columbia to Peru and the ruins of the Inca Empire, and then all the way down through Chile to Patagonia, about which there is no Hollywood movie. There is, however, a thoroughly California treatment of a trip to Cartagena, in Columbia – see Romancing the Stone (1985), not surprisingly filmed in Mexico.
For a full list of movies viewed for this website, go to Movie Archive, above.