The cinematic culture that is Mexico

If Mr. del Toro wins the best director award at the Oscars, it will be the fourth time a filmmaker from Mexico has taken the prize in five years, all with unconventional films. Alejandro G. Iñárritu won in 2015 for “Birdman,” the bizarrely hilarious tale of an aging superhero actor trying to get serious on Broadway, and he did it again in 2016 with “The Revenant,” a radically different western focused on a quest for revenge in subzero temperatures. Alfonso Cuarón triumphed in 2014 with “Gravity,” a sci-fi story that many said was impossible to make, before it made over $723 million at the worldwide box office.

Referred to as “The Three Amigos,” the title of a book about their transnational cinema, these directors are not the only Mexican filmmakers who have won recent accolades in Hollywood. There is also the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has three Oscars; Rodrigo Prieto, who shot “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Argo” and “Brokeback Mountain”; and another Oscar winner, the production designer Eugenio Caballero.

The Amigos’ success shows the strength of an artistic circle; they are longtime friends who have encouraged one another to take risks.

Here is the NYT piece by Ioan Grillo, referred to me by Kevin Lewis.  Also from the NYT here is Veronique de Rugy on Trump and protectionism.



"The Amigos’ success shows the strength of an artistic circle"

This is an idea I would like to see developed/analyzed more...

The cinematic culture that is California? Or Mexican American directors? Movies like Shape of Water and Birdman were made in the US, their actors and production companies were basically American. The directors may have been born in Mexico but their careers have been almost completely in the US.

It's not the director but all the people supporting them that individualism a thing of the past comrade?

In contrast, when CEO's salaries are discussed individualism is alive and kicking.

Y Tu Mama Tambien and Pan's Labyrinth are two of my favorite movies, and certainly the latter is on many people's list of best of all time. I'm no expert, but neither seems like they have much of a US connection.

@Rusty, Both movies have strong US connections. Pan's Labyrinth was filmed in Europe, it used the Spanish language, but it was written and produced in the Hollywood area of California. That's as American as you can get. Y Tu Mama Tambien, was actually filmed in Mexico. The writer/director Alfonso Cuarón was born and raised in Mexico but had built his career in Hollywood, California. That has definite American influence and perspective as well as Mexican.

@Axa, do you mean the staff creating the movie or the fan base? I suspect both of those have rather western American centric demographic profiles.

Is Individualism a thing? Or is tribalism by ethnicity/language/nationality a thing? Cowen wrote the title of this post focusing on the tribal Mexican national identity defined by "lines in the sand", so I would say that tribalism is a thing.

Guillermo del Toro was born, grew up and started making movies in Mexico. Just because he's a massive otaku would you call him Japanese too?

Thanks for the additional info, but I think you're really stretching things - a film (Pan's Labyrinth) that's in Spanish, filmed in Spain, with Spanish actors, with a Mexico-born director (whatever his residency at the time the movie was made), is hardly "as American as it gets"

"Or Mexican American directors?"

None of the Three Amigos grew up in America. The only prominent movie director of Mexican ancestry who grew up in America is Richard Rodriguez. Vastly more Oscar nominations in this century have gone to Mexicans (such as the great Mexico City cinematographer Lubetzki) than to Mexican Americans, despite Los Angeles County having 4 million or more Mexican Americans.

The Three Amigos were each were raised in Mexico and got started in the Mexican film/TV/advertising industries. Cuaron is the son of a rare Mexican nuclear physicist. Innarittu's father was an executive, although he suffered a financial setback.

Del Toro is the son of a car dealer so wealthy he was kidnapped for 72 days in 1998 and James Cameron had to pay his million dollar ransom for the Del Toro family. Del Toro did not return to his native Mexico for 17 years due to additional death threats against his family from the kidnappers, most of whom remain at large. Del Toro often remarked that he feels creatively deprived by his not being able to visit his homeland from 1998-2015, but he can't bring himself to expose his family to the omnipresent threat of crime south of the border (which puts a different angle on his speech about erasing "lines in the sand.")

It's almost like del Toro finding refuge north of the border while his father's kidnappers are bottled up south of the border is what Trump meant by implying that our immigration system should instead by set up so that Mexico is sending their best.

Has any genuine Mexican American (i.e., went through adolescence in the U.S.) been nominated for any Oscar since Edward James Olmos in the late 1980s for "Stand and Deliver"? I went through all the technical Oscars about six years ago and there didn't seem to be anybody of Mexican descent since the 1980 who had gone to high school in America who had gotten even a technical nomination.

In contrast, in the old days, Anthony Quinn, who was born in Mexico but went to high school in L.A., won two Oscars.

Doesn't this happen in Hollywood fairly regularly? In the '80s, it was all the Australians:

There are the Inklings, from which both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were a part of!

I am proud to have drank a beer at the pub where they usually met, The Eagle and Child (which in itself seems like a Tolkienesque reference).

All of these films are pretty much souless. I don't get it because that's not at all my experience having lived in Mexico. I liked Birdman, but it's not a movie you can 'love'. The rest are all cold and harsh with very shallow characters. It's all skill in film making over telling a beautiful story. (I did not see Gravity however).

But then I don't enjoy sci-fi movies for the most part so I guess that's my bias showing. Give me Almodovar any day (yeah, he's Spanish, but there's still a connection there).

Gravity was good, precisely because it was soulless. The part I did not like was the human interest parts where for example they show a goofy guy who gets killed in space and then the hokey part where, unrealistically, George Clooney sacrifices himself to save the rest. Stupid. The rest was good however. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (TANSTAAFL). BTW I don't like sci-fi either.

The ones that won weren't their best work.

Gravity was a bit far-fetched, I thought. It was a bit heavy on Sandra Bullock grunting and gasping, too.

"Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Amores Perros" both crush anything discussed in this post. No doubt these guys are great filmmakers; pity most folks will only see the Hollywood version of their work.

"Revenant" was spectacular, but almost on cinematography alone.

Oh yeah, I remember "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001), the scene were the teen boys are masturbating in the pool thinking of girls was memorable, as they were boasting pretenders. The trouble with these "coming of age" type stories ("A Separate Peace" by John Knowles is another one) is that IMO they don't translate that well to foreign audiences. I notice here in the Philippines the "serious talking heads" movies like the Meryl Streep type dramas that get lots of film critic praise don't really get understood by the audiences here (who speak passing English), however, action films like "Transformers", "Spiderman", Marvel superheros, "Guardians", John Woo, John Wick, and anything with action is understood quite well, even and especially horror, like the "Chucky" satanic doll (saw a Philippine remake of this movie the other day, where they copied all the American cliches). Subtle nuances don't translate well outside the USA. Like for example the final scene in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" where the boys will not see each other will be lost to the Filipino (and maybe even the average Mexican?), who is likely filing out of the movie house, maybe talking to their friend, while this scene is being played. The boys will not see each other? So what? There's plenty of other friends and anyway life's a hazard will be the mindset. When I first moved to southeast Asia, I was taken aback by such a coarse attitude but now I've come to accept it, even like it. Superficial but who cares? Is it a coincidence that PH is #1 is beauty pageants, having a good time, a 'manana' attitude? I don't think so.

Slice of life movies often don't translate well overseas. Too much idiosyncratic local culture that leaves viewers befuddled, or bored. It's the BIGGER than life movies - Pacific Rim, Transformers - that are all the rage internationally.

I didn't like The Revenant, either.

For Murder in the Snowy Mountain West movies I recommend Wind River.

The Revenant was worth seeing on the airplane, no more (but equally no less).

"Gravity was a bit far-fetched, I thought. It was a bit heavy on Sandra Bullock grunting and gasping, too."

I went in to Gravity, with the expectations that Hollywood got the science reasonably correct. It had been promoted as accurate.

It was horrible. They failed to get any of it correct.

What a great reminder that to my eternal shame I have yet to watch a Pedro Infante movie. Thank you Amazon Prime for the wide selection of which it is now time to take advantage. The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema was between 1933 and 1964. Incredible output of films and undoubtedly many great talents who do not get the appreciation they deserve in the US. Coursera or somebody would win my eternal gratitude if they put out a Golden Age of Mexican Cinema course.

The man had pipes.

The Shape of Water is seriously one of the most cartoonishly dumb and cliche-addled moves ever.

Tyler Cowen defines cinematic culture in terms of "lines in the sand" nations like Mexico.

There's Mexican and there's Mexican. I doubt his cinematic style would be very popular in Mexico. I don't think it's particularly popular here except among a certain class.

Oscars? What Oscars?

If the goal is to have fewer people watching each year, the culture that is Hollywood is winning.

Get woke. Go broke.

Plus, I've boycotted the Oscars since the rat dastards denied Schwarzenegger his for "Conan the Barbarian."

Another broken television institution is the venerable CBS News magazine 60 Minutes.

Was Oprah Winfrey selected before or after Charlie Rose left the show?

For me it was Brad Pitt winning an Oscar. The boycott was on.

I could barely tolerate Hollywood when it was intellectual pablum. But politically correct intellectual pablum? No thanks.

Mexicans stealing white US born men's jobs!

Next thing you know, women will be stealing men's jobs.

At least this had cut the number of Jews stealing jobs of white men and women.

Speaking for Trump.

Could it be that among people who care about such things there's just more of an artsy frisson going to see a film directed by "Alfonso Cuaron" than one directed by "Bob Smith?"

I had to sit through every Harry Potter film with my wife, and I know my hopes were highest for the Cuaron entry, certainly higher than if it were directed by John Jackson, Jack Josephson or Joe Johnson

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