Mexico City is the fourth largest production center in North America (after LA, New York, and Vancouver), and Mexican filmmakers have had great success with their Hollywood films — think “Gravity” and “Birdman” — at recent Academy Awards. For Cinco de Mayo, we celebrate Mexican films and filmmakers of the past and present.
Cuarón was the first Latin American to win the Academy Award for Best Director for “Gravity” (2013), which he co-wrote with his son Jonás Cuarón, a filmmaker in his own right. In fact, there are three Cuaróns to watch out for in the film industry, as Carlos Cuarón, Alfonso’s brother, is also a director and screenwriter. The brothers wrote the international hit “Y Tu Mamá Tambien” (2001), a sexy road movie set against a landscape of Mexican society and politics. Cuarón also directed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004).
Alejandro González Iñárritu
As one of the “Three Amigos of Cinema” along with Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, Iñárritu enjoys a great reputation at home and abroad. He followed in Cuarón’s footsteps by scooping up the Academy Award for Best Director for “Birdman” (2014), which also won for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.
Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro is famous for his dark and fantastic aesthetic involving imagery from fairytales, Catholicism, and mythology. A Guardian article about the 2008 “Hellboy” sequel quotes del Toro as saying, “I find monstrous things incredibly beautiful, in the way that the most beautiful carvings in Gothic cathedrals are the grotesque carvings. If I were a mason I would be carving gargoyles. I’m absolutely head over heels in love with all these things.” The beautiful “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) won three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Fernández was a dominant figure in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (1936-1959). His dark and melodramatic film “María Calendaria” (1944) won the top prize at Cannes and, along with “Flor Silvestre” (1942), starred the prestigious Hollywood actor Dolores del Río and featured cinematography by internationally-acclaimed Gabriel Figueroa. Other celebrated Fernández films were “La Perla” (1945), “Enamorada” (1946), and the American-Mexican production “The Fugitive” (1947), directed with John Ford.
Although this famous surrealist director is Spanish, he spent many years in Mexico, winning for it the Palm d’Or at the 1961 Cannes Festival for “Viridiana.” His Mexican period includes “Los Olvidados” (The Young and the Damned) (1950), a story about impoverished children in Mexico City that launched him back on the international film scene with a Best Director Award at Cannes after several years of disappointment, and “Él,” which did poorly at the time of its release but has since found acclaim.
Franko’s bullying-themed “After Lucia” won a top prize at Cannes in 2012, where Tim Roth was one of the judges, and persuaded Franco to make “Chronic” with Roth as a male end-of-life caregiver (2015). In a Guardian review, Franco is quoted as saying, “How can we understand life without thinking about dying?”
In an article at Reuters celebrating the rebelliousness of today’s young Mexican filmmakers, Naranjo is quoted as saying: “It is important to recognize the mastery of the older generation … Cuarón, Iñárritu, they found a way to protect their projects and that is the hardest thing to do in the United States. The industry finds ways to limit creativity over and over.” After gaining attention from Hollywood studios for his 2011 film “Miss Bala,” he has struck out on an independent path with his forthcoming “Viena and the Fantomes” (2017), starring Dakota Fanning.
Do you have a favorite film or filmmaker from Mexico? Let us know in the comments below, and Happy Cinco de Mayo!