Cabeza de Vaca

Nicolas Echevarria's 1991 Mexican epic is based on the memoirs of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (Juan Diego), the Spanish explorer of the American southwest. Shipwrecked along the gulf coast, he's enslaved by a Native American shaman and his assistant, an armless dwarf (Jose Flores), who teach him magic; eventually he earns his freedom and travels west. Hampered somewhat by hammy acting, this picaresque adventure plays for long stretches without dialogue, and much of its interest rests with its ethnographic treatment of Native American rituals—as well as with the explorer's coming to value the native culture more than his own. In Spanish with subtitles. 112 min.

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