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Friday, October 4, 2013

Mexican Directors Make Hollywood Home

Mexican film directors Alfonso Cuaron, left, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pose for photographers at the Clavijero Palace during the 5th Morelia Film Festival in Morelia, Mexico.(Guillermo Arias/AP)

Mexican film directors Alfonso Cuaron, left, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu pose for photographers at the Clavijero Palace during the 5th Morelia Film Festival in Morelia, Mexico.(Guillermo Arias/AP)

Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” opens in theaters today. It stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts who get trapped in space.

The film has received rave reviews from critics and has swept the prestigious international film festival circuit.

While Cuarón is not a household name the way George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are, American audiences are probably familiar with films he’s directed, such as “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men.”

Cuarón is part of a wave of talented Mexican directors who came to international prominence in the early 2000s with their Spanish-language films, and have made the crossover to Hollywood films.

At the 2007 Academy Awards, Cuarón, along with his friends and fellow Mexican directors, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, dominated the categories with multiple nominations for their films: Iñárritu for “Babel,”  del Toro for “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Cuarón for “Children of Men.”

What are Mexican filmmakers bringing to Hollywood?

“These films that they’re creating sort of break this linear narrative that Hollywood tends to go by, which can make it really fascinating,” Javier Ramirez, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, Bloomington, told Here & Now. “And also with their cinematography — the way they set up certain shots, with oblique shots and closeups and just really frenetic pacing, to using hand-held cameras.”

Javier’s Picks For An At-Home Mexican Film Festival

“Vamos con Pancho Villa” (Let’s Go with Pancho Villa), Fernando de Fuentes, 1936
“Ahí está el Detalle” (You’re Missing the Point), Juan Bustillo Oro, 1940
“María Candelaria,” Emilio Fernández, 1944
“Nosotros, Los Pobres” (We, The Poor Ones), Ismael Rodríguez, 1948
“La Negra Angustias,” Matilde Landeta, 1949
“Espaldas Mojadas,” Alejandro Galindo, 1955
“El Lugar sin Límites,” (Hell Without Limits), Arturo Ripstein, 1978
“Danzón,” María Novaro, 1991
“Sólo Con Tu Pareja” (Love in the Time of Hysteria), Alfonso Cuarón, 1991
“Serpientes y Escaleras,” Busi Cortés, 1992
“Sexo, pudor y lágrimas” (Sex, Shame & Tears), Antonio Serrano, 1999
“Amores Perros,”Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000
“Rudo y Cursi,” Carlos Cuarón, 2008
“Voy a Explotar” (I’m Going to Explode), Carlos Naranja, 2008
“No Se Aceptan Devoluciones” (Instructions Not Included), Eugenio Derbez, 2013


  • Javier Ramirez, Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, Bloomington, who studies cinema exhibition, with a focus on Mexican cinema.



And now to a film that opens nationwide today.


SANDRA BULLOCK: (as Dr. Ryan Stone) Houston, Explorer, copy. Explorer, Dr. Stone requesting faster transport to bay area. Explorer, do you copy?

HOBSON: It is called "Gravity." It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts trapped in space. The director is Alfonso Cuaron, who is one of many Mexican filmmakers making it big in Hollywood right now. Cuaron also directed "Children of Men" as well as "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

So what are Mexican directors like Alfonso Cuaron bringing to Hollywood? Joining us to discuss is Javier Ramirez, who studies Mexican cinema at Indiana University in Bloomington. Welcome.

JAVIER RAMIREZ: Thank you very much or having me.

HOBSON: Well, so who are some of the other big Mexican filmmakers that we should be aware of right now?

RAMIREZ: You have Alfonso Cuaron's friend Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu and then also Guillermo del Toro. Both of which have been closely related with Alfonso Cuaron's work and then also Carlos Cuaron. These are basically some of the driving forces behind Mexican cinema.

HOBSON: And what is it about them that puts them in this category that makes them sort of at the forefront of Mexican filmmakers right now?

RAMIREZ: These films that they're creating sort of breaks this linear narrative that Hollywood tends to go by, which can make it really fascinating, and also with their cinematography, the way they set up certain shots with oblique shots and close-ups and just really frenetic pacing to using handheld cameras.

HOBSON: So let's turn to Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's first film, "Amores Perros." It really put him on the map, and it tells three stories that are connected by a car crash. And the scene we're about to listen to is the story of Octavio and his sister-in-law Susana. Set it up for us.

RAMIREZ: This is at the very beginning. This is Octavio learning from her sister-in-law that she's pregnant again. And interesting enough is Susana's married to Ramiro, which just happens to be Octavio's brother. And really, they can't support themselves. So she comes, really, to Octavio for help.


VANESSA BAUCHE: (as Susana) (Foreign language spoken)

GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: (as Octavio) (Foreign language spoken)

BAUCHE: (as Susana) (Foreign language spoken)

RAMIREZ: Octavio, he's in love with her and he wants to take her away.

BERNAL: (as Octavio) (Foreign language spoken)

BAUCHE: (as Susana) (Foreign language spoken)

BERNAL: (as Octavio) (Foreign language spoken)

RAMIREZ: So you start to see the theme of the father's absence and abandonment that come through, particularly with the scene. There's the romance that goes through the entire narrative with Octavio and Susana and his idea that leaving with her and going to the border, Ciudad Juarez, will be their escape and sort of this idea of class mobility, going from the lower class and then to possibly middle class.

HOBSON: You see the difficulty of life in Mexico. I wonder what you see as the differences between the way that Mexico is portrayed by Mexican filmmakers versus Hollywood filmmakers.

RAMIREZ: With the film by Inarritu is you get this sort of gritty, realistic portrayal of what it is not only in the lower class but in the upper class as well. And then sort of coming from the leftist standpoint, you see all the class dynamics that's within Mexico City, giving it that sort of substenence(ph) that lacks in Hollywood films.

Hollywood just sort of characterizes Mexico in itself as this sort of third world country that is dominated by drug cartels. And you see this with Oliver Stone's "The Savages." And even when it is positive portrayal of Mexico, say, with the case of "Spanglish," you still see the recycling of the maid, sort of women - this sort of idea of labor, men with labor doing landscaping and then women with labor doing domestic roles.

HOBSON: Javier Ramirez is a PhD candidate at Indiana University in Bloomington who focuses on Mexican cinema. Javier, thank you so much for talking with us.

RAMIREZ: Thank you very much for having me.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

HOBSON: And, Robin, you know, while we're talking about "Gravity" and this movie "Gravity," which stars, of course, Sandra Bullock, I was at a trivia night the other night, and one of the questions was what celebrity's name is a mix of the letters that spell skull and cobra. And it was Sandra Bullock. I wouldn't have figured that one up.


I'm writing them down now.

HOBSON: Right. Write them down, mix them up.

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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