Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Mexico City and get you in the mood for travel

Movies

Santa (1932)
Mexico’s first talkie tells the story of a blind pianist who falls in love with Santa, a lady of the night. Directed by silent film star Antonio “Tony” Moreno.

Nosotros Los Pobres (1948)
Melodrama that was a smash box-office office hit. Chronicles the trials of city life for a poor carpenter unjustly accused of murder.

Los Olvidados (1951)
Social realism and surrealism blend to show that “behind every beautiful city are poor children” in one of the top movies of Mexican cinema. Won best director for Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel at Cannes.

El Patrullero 777 (1978)
Urban comedy starring beloved Spanish-speaking comic actor Cantinflas. Cantinflas plays a Mexico City cop who gets in trouble for the hands-on way he tries to solve local problems on his beat.

Callejon de los Milagros (Midaq Alley) (1995)
The ultimate portrait of life right in the heart of Mexico City’s center, with Salma Hayek.

Amores Perros (2000)
A car crash in Mexico City links grim tales of dog fighting and infidelity, magazine publishing and supermodels, guerrilla fighting and hit men, illustrating inhumanity in the metropolis.

Frida (2002)
The story of painter Frida Kahlo and her hulking muralist husband Diego Rivera.

Books

LA Capital, by Jonathan Kandell (1988)
“Every chapter is a different century and you get a real feeling of how the city grew up.”—Bridget Estavillo, co-founder, La Sombra del Sabino bookstore. Compelling history of the first big city of the new world by a former Latin American correspondent for the New York Times.

A True Story Based on Lies, by Jennifer Clement (2002)
Haunting contemporary tale of domestic slavery and abuse set in a typical well-to-do home in Mexico City. Poetic rendering of the real life and psychology of the capital’s servant classes.

Life in Mexico, by Frances Calderon de la Barca (1843)
All-time favorite laced with detail and an enduring sense of wonder.

The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz (1950)
“Obligatory. One of the most profound pieces of writing about Mexico.”—Bridget Estavillo. Key work by Nobel Prize Laureate Octavio Paz on national identity, including observations of urban Mexico.

Mexican Postcards, by Carlos Monsivais (1997)
Probing satire and whimsical musings by a leading cultural critic, with valuable insights into the city’s pop culture.

Travel Advisory, by David Lida (1999)
Ten gritty short stories lay bare the mutually parasitical aspect of cross-cultural relationships. Grim but fair glimpses into the city, its habits, and inhabitants.

Battles in the Desert and Other Stories, by José Emilio Pacheco (1981)
Seven short stories outlining the often rough and gritty life of middle of the century Mexico City.

Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, by Miguel León-Portilla (1962)
Accessible and moving accounts rendered by one of the country’s outstanding anthropologists.

Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake, by Elena Poniatowska (1988)
Gripping testimonials from the tragic 1985 earthquake whose scars are still visible on the capital, evoking the courage and spirit of the city’s inhabitants.

Music

Compilations:

Colección de Oro: Los Panchos
Perfect preparation for Mexico City because the songs are ubiquitous—wafting through the window on radios or hummed by the cleaning lady—while the exquisite harmonies of this sentimental trio, formed in the 1940s, will bring back fond memories after your visit.

Romance
No one imagined Luis Miguel would sell several million copies of this album with the tunes everyone’s grandma used to sing. “Because of this album, young people, four generations on, got back to the bolero—the sentimental education of Latin America.”—Lorena Maza, writer, producer, and director, Bésame Mucho musical.

Limon y Sal
Accordion-toting Julieta Venegas won the Grammy for best Latin pop with her fourth album that blends tango and bolero (“De qué sirve”) and reggae (“Primer Día”).

Lo Mejor de Agustín Lara
The country’s great songwriter, responsible for classics of the thirties and forties such as “Solamente una Vez,” “María Bonita,” “Farolito,” and “Lágrimas de sangre.”

Una Sangre
The versatile Lila Downs, who—when not in New York or Oaxaca—can often be spotted in Coyoacán, won the 2005 Latin Grammy for the best folk disc with these impassioned compositions.

Classic Songs:
Hymns to and aspersions on urban life—landmarks, passion, and trying to pay the bills—in the continent’s great metropolis.

1. “Tres Veces Te Engañé” performed by Paquita la del Barrio
2. “Metro Balderas” performed by El Tri
3. “La Bartola” performed by Chava Flores
4. “Cielito Lindo” performed by Jorge Negrete
5. “La Negra Tomasa” performed by Caifanes
6. “Las Mañanitas” performed by Mariachi Vargas
7. “Hasta Que Te Conocí” performed by Juan Gabriel
8. “Bésame Mucho” performed by Susana Zavaleta
9. “Paloma negra” performed by Chavela Vargas
10. “La Patita Va Al Mercado” performed by Cri Cri

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