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A Mexican wave is sweeping through the world of cinema

A Mexican wave is sweeping through the world of cinema

Posted by Diego Hidalgo on March 02, 2015

“FEAR is the condom of life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy things,” declared Alejandro González Iñárritu on February 22nd after his absurdly and deliciously fearless “Birdman” won four Oscars, including best picture. It is the second year in a row that Mexican pluck has triumphed. In 2014 Alfonso Cuarón’s 3-D space-junk drama “Gravity” won seven Oscars, including the one for best director. Emmanuel Lubezki, both men’s wizard behind the camera, has taken best cinematographer for two years running. In America, where most Mexicans are noticed, if at all, sweeping floors and waiting at tables, such a masterful cleanup in Hollywood is a startling result.

The success reflects well on both Mexico and Hollywood. All three friends came of age in Mexico City in the 1980s, when mainstream domestic cinema was financially and creatively bankrupt. They needed to make movies that were profitable, enabling them to break out. They did so, says Adolfo Aguilar, a film critic, at a time when Mexico was opening up to free trade, and global influences were swirling. Two films, Mr González Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros” (2000) and Mr Cuarón’s “Y tu Mamá También” (2001), established their reputations for telling grippingly commercial stories with the edginess of art-house films. They were hits both at home and abroad.

Once they crossed the border, their film-making has taken different paths, but they have relentlessly pushed the boundaries, Mr Aguilar says, be that into outer space or into the id of a washed-up Hollywood superhero. Tom Shone, a critic for Intelligent LifeThe Economist’s sister publication, likens their success in Hollywood, along with that of Guillermo del Toro, their compatriot, to the French film-makers of the early 1960s. Yet Deborah Shaw, author of “Three Amigos”, a book about them, notes that they have not directed any films in their homeland since 2001.

Diego Luna, co-star of “Y tu Mamá También” and now a director himself (he made “Cesar Chavez” last year), says this is not because they have turned their backs on Mexico. He argues the film-makers have been able to rewrite the rules in Hollywood at a time when competition from television and the internet has forced American studios to become more creative and culturally eclectic.

Their work has also helped blur the lines between independent and mainstream cinema; the same films that triumphed at the Oscars won the Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles the night before. What’s more, the Mexicans’ storytelling, satirical barbs and stubborn determination are rooted in their home country, Mr Luna reckons. “The marvel of directing films is that you can go as far as you like, but you always end up talking about the place that you come from.”

The acclaim is not just in Hollywood. Mexican film-makers, showing even more twisted and brutal realities in art-house cinema, won best director at the Cannes film festival both in 2012 and 2013 with the films “Post Tenebras Lux” (Carlos Reygadas) and “Heli” (Amat Escalante). Recent comedies such as “Instructions not Included” (2013) by a Mexican television star, Eugenio Derbez, have been commercial hits, both at home and in the Hispanic market in America.

There is, says Mr Luna, a “brutal necessity in Mexico to tell our stories and express ourselves”. For much of the 20th century, he says that was bottled up because of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). When Mr Cuarón made “Y tu Mamá También”, a road movie involving Mexican teenagers and an older woman, it was meant to convey a view of a country grappling with its own political adolescence. It coincided with the PRI’s loss of power.

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