Maria Usbeck’s Film Jukebox

Maria Usbeck
Maria Usbeck

After five years as the singer of US new wave band Selebrities, it was homesickness that led Ecuadorian musician Maria Usbeck to record her first Spanish-language album, a percussive pop travel diary that revisits the influence of her homeland and mixes it with other exotic cultures she encountered on her travels. ‘Amparo’ is out on Labrador in Europe, Cascine in North America and Rallye in Japan.

1. Wild Tales (Damián Szifron, 2015)
This Argentinian film truly caught me by surprise. Six short stories, each more intense and dramatic than the other. Each one shows us the moment when a person can truly lose their grip. The topics for each story are incredibly well thought out as they reflect a very contemporary Argentinian and South American society, from a wedding that turns into a complete wreck to an actual plane wreck. I would suggest to watch this if you are in need of a laugh but can also handle some moments of pure edge-of-you-seat anxiety.

2. Cría Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1976)
During the end of the Franquist era, a young girl lives with her two sisters, grandmother and aunt. Her mother has passed after a very long illness, her father later dies of a heart attack. Carlos Saura takes us through this dysfunctional drama allowing us to feel and think as if we were this little girl. Middle child syndrome meets the most beautiful cinematography and art direction. The soundtrack is by one of my favourite Spaniard singers, Jeanette. The main theme ‘Porque Te Vas’, was a song I used to dance and sing along to as a little girl myself.

3. Fando y Lis (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1968)
This is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first film, which, when it premiered in Mexico in the 60s, caused a rather angry reaction from its audience. The nature of the film is rather blasphemous. It’s based on the play by the Spanish writer and filmmaker Fernando Arrabal. Its surrealism brings to life human emotion with a rich depth of traumatic pasts and agnostic nature. It’s a film that truly makes you think.

4. Io non ho paura (Gabriele Salvatores, 2003)
A story about a cruel realisation for a young boy, who discovers the darkest side of adults. Filmed in Spain in Italian, this film takes you to a small village during the hottest summer days. As a kid I spent a lot of time running through fields and the woods with my sisters and cousins. Always on the hunt for some sort of adventure or entertainment. Director Gabriele Salvatores delivers an excellent portrait of innocence in the face of desperation. Extremely moving.

5. Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959)
Black and white Venezuelan-French documentary that came out the same year as The 400 Blows. It’s beautifully shot. The documentary shows the lives of the Venezuelan people who lived in this beach town called Araya at the time. Working in the salt marsh, making clay pots and having a type of lifestyle that was slowly already starting to disappear and continues to do so.

6. Twilight (Julio Bracho, 1945)
I watched this Mexican film noir about a year ago while on a first date. The man who took me on this date deserves an award for choosing this film. Now if only he was as great as the film was… A dramatic story unravels in the life of a high class society doctor and professor. This man goes through a bit of an existential crisis. His long-lost love has resurfaced and he finds himself torn. This love story captures you with impressionist imagery.

7. Eco de la montaña (Nicolás Echeverria, 2014)
Director Nicolás Echeverria, who is best known for Cabeza de vaca, shows us the life of the indigenous artist Santos de la Torre, of the Huichol people in Mexico. He depicts his work, his family life, his ideals and rituals, as well as his relationship to the outside world. It’s mostly inspirational and eye-opening.

8. The Maid (Sebastián Silva, 2009)
I never myself had a nanny or a full-time maid. When I was growing up in South America, most of my friends did, and their maids were almost like family to them. Director Sebastián Silva was able to unleash the essence of what is almost a psychological thriller. The portrayal of the maid is something truly unforgettable.

9. Dark Habits (Pedro Almodóvar, 1983)
There is nothing like combining Catholic guilt with surrealism. Works like a charm in this Almodóvar film. In a home for rebellious women turned nuns, the most scandalous, witty and funny situations take place. It’s a thrill to watch everything unfold as you dig further and further into the troubles of each character.

10. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
I was in high school when this movie came out and I remember thinking that this and the music video for ‘Lady hear me tonight’ by Modjo were the most outrageous concepts I could’ve laid my eyes upon. Instantly in love. It’s about two friends who go on a road trip and meet an older woman who is keen to seduce them. The film is not only about sexuality but about the secrets that they hold from each other.