NOTE: I edited and partly wrote the following feature for LimitéMagazine.com.
(Re-posted from LimitéMagazine.com)
Mexico’s “Three Amigos” are Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro. These highly accomplished filmmakers’ works have transcended Mexico’s borders and captured the imaginations of moviegoers the world over. Admired for their fearlessness and imagination, the three director-producers bound together in 2007 to form Cha Cha Cha Films, a production company that released Rudo y Cursi (dir. Carlos Cuarón, 2008), Mother and Child (dir. Rodrigo García, 2009), and Biutiful (dir. Iñárritu, 2009).
The three filmmakers have been nominated for a combined nine Academy Awards, and their most recent directorial achievements include Gravity (Cuarón, 2013), Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010), and Pacific Rim (del Toro, 2013).
by Morgan Goldin
The trailer for the 1998 film Great Expectations came out when I was a freshman in high school. The hypnotic quality of the song used (“Life in Mono” by Mono)—as well as the promise of a film delving right into the realm of unrequited love—proved too tantalizing for me to miss. When I finally got to see the film, it did not disappoint. It was my introduction to the cinema of director Alfonso Cuarón, and I was hooked.
One of the members of the “Three Amigos” filmmaking collective, Cuarón’s signature seems like a synthesis of his peers, combining the technical sophistication and Kubrickian control of Guillermo del Toro’s with the docudrama realism and immediacy of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s. However, Cuarón is no mere stylish copycat. Working with the same cinematographer since the beginning of his career, the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón employs the best aesthetic choices to whatever most complements the subject matter. So whether you’re in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic battlefield like in Children of Men (2006), or in an edenic Mexican beach like Y tu mamá también (2001), the audience has a real sense of the atmosphere the film is trying to convey.
Aside from his Mexican contemporaries, Cuarón’s influences include more European filmmakers, particularly from the Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave. There’s a real sensual quality to his cinema, tracing his roots to Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Claire Denis, and Terrence Malick. Cuarón also works in many genres, including romantic dramas (Great Expectations, Y tu mamá también), fantasy (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ), and science-fiction-thriller (Children of Men, Gravity ). The amount of visual detail and information put forth in his movies expertly complements the actions of his characters—whose flaws don’t detract from a very pertinent desire to find themselves and do good in this world. Such enormous empathy expounded into each of his films reveals a true humanistic artist at work.
This demonstration of anthropological curiosity makes Alfonso Cuarón a rare talent in cinema. His treatment of these themes and concerns, combined with his bravado filmmaking techniques (such as his flair for eclectic music and unparalleled cinematography) ensure Cuarón’s place as one of the top working directors in contemporary cinema. Whatever genre he chooses to work in or story he wishes to tell, the audience can expect magic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cuarón’s latest film, Gravity, is the recipient of 10 2014 Academy Award nominations—including Best Picture—and seven wins, including Best Director and Best Editing for Cuarón (the latter of which was shared with film editor Mark Sanger).
Alejandro González Iñárritu
by Leslie Long
Years ago, someone in my office asked if I wanted her two tickets to see Amores perros (2000) that night at the New York Film Festival. With no knowledge of the film’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, I almost said no. Smart move to have gone because it started my fixation with this former commercial film director turned Hollywood award winner.
Amores perros was the first film of Iñárritu’s Death Series. From the opening scene, I was energized and amazed at what he’d created. A mix of the very rich and the very poor in his native Mexico City (he’s since moved to Los Angeles), it’s about a series of events colliding around a car crash. Even the bluish cast gave the film a look that was fresh and new.
That night, Iñárritu was there with the film’s screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, and I stayed long after midnight listening to them explain their influences and their collaboration. Amores perros didn’t only grab me, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and went on to win over 60 awards from film festivals around the world.
Iñárritu’s Death Series includes two other fine films: 21 Grams(2003),starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, which is also centered on an accident; and Babel (2006), with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, where an accidental shooting sets off a whirlwind of events. This mix of high and low, depression and joy, and a swirl of dizzying activity (that sometimes takes a breath) are hallmarks of Iñárritu’s work. More awards followed.
Why death? Iñárritu says,”I am not a depressive person at all … but I reflect a lot on my life and life in general, from the perspective of death.” He remembers lying awake at night as a child because he was afraid of the sound of his father coughing. “That fear was the first time I began to realize that somebody could die,” he says. “I became very sensitive to death.” Hesse, Camus, and Sartre were among his teenage influences, “And those guys connected me with the consciousness that all this will be over.”
Arriaga and Iñárritu ended their partnership in 2006. Since that time, Iñárritu shot a film about soccer followed by a soccer-themed commercial for Nike. Most recently, his film Biutiful (2010) revisited his high/low style, this time showing a grittier Barcelona not often portrayed. Javier Bardem plays a tortured man preparing for his imminent death from prostate cancer. Again, in the world of Iñárritu, nothing is simple. Amid tears, grit, confusion, heartbreak, and pathos, sometimes the sun shines in.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Iñárritu’s next film, Birdman, is a comedy about a washed-up actor who attempts to mount a comeback on Broadway. It stars Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Watts, Zach Galifianakis, and Michael Keaton. It’s slated for a Fall 2014 release.
Guillermo del Toro
by Daniel Quitério
Spain, 1944. In the midst of war, destruction, and evil, a young girl ignites her imagination and transports herself to a world perhaps darker and more curious than the one she leaves behind. What’s translated to the screen is a fantastical dreamscape interwoven with dark hues and horrific beauty. This is Pan’s Labyrinth, the first film written, directed, and produced by Guillermo del Toro that I have experienced.
With over six dozen awards won, including three Oscars (for cinematography, art direction, and makeup), Pan’s Labyrinth—which was produced by fellow Mexican film great Alfonso Cuarón, among others—was one of the most celebrated artistic achievements of 2006. It earned del Toro an Oscar nomination for its original screenplay (emphasis on original), as well as other accolades for his direction and producing. Indeed, the multi-hyphenate filmmaker has been leaving audiences both dazzled and horrified with his unique vision, often involving elaborate makeup and larger-than-life characters. In fact, words fail to describe del Toro’s imagination, so have a look at just a few of the beasts he’s conjured through the magic of cinema.
The maker of such elaborate horror and fantasy films as Blade II(2002), Hellboy (2004), and most recently Pacific Rim (2013), learned about makeup from legendary, Oscar-winning artist Dick Smith (The Godfather, The Exorcist, Amadeus). del Toro went on to hone his craft as a makeup supervisor for nearly a decade, an art he skillfully uses to bring his creations to life, both on screen and in the minds of his fans.
Despite his creative mind, one of the filmmaker’s most memorable characters wasn’t his to begin with. In 1993, Hellboy, the red, horned demon with Nazi ties who fights evil, made his first appearance inSan Diego Comic-Con Comics #2. Although comic book artist Mike Mignola conceived the character, del Toro certainly brought it to a wider audience with his popular film, which spawned a sequel in 2008. The title character was played by Ron Perlman, with whom del Toro previously worked in his directorial debut, Cronos (1993). Although Perlman’s name is synonymous with Hellboy in adoring fans’ minds, del Toro spent nearly seven years convincing the film studios that he was the right actor for the part, despite Perlman’s less-than A-list status.
del Toro doesn’t need to direct a picture to have his influence felt. His fingerprints are on all three Hobbit films (on which he collaborated on the screenplays) and he has a producing credit on over 30 projects, ranging from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful(2010) to the upcoming Kung Fu Panda 3. Still, it feels like a whole other experience when del Toro takes a seat in the director’s chair. Next, his work will be seen on FX’s sci-fi thriller series The Strain, as well as 2015 horror feature Crimson Peak, starring Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston. Finally, it’s been announced that the director will be working on a darker version of Pinocchio, no doubt adding the unique flavor that is so indescribably Guillermo del Toro’s.