Following the steps of my Hail to the Marvel Kings trilogy (Joss Whedon, James Gunn, the Russo brothers), now it’s the turn of my holy trinity: Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Best known as “the three amigos of cinema”, these three gentlemen have helped pave the road for us young filmmakers from México, in the sense of showing that you can succeed worldwide and not die trying and you can shut the haters up in the most epic ways (hello, Birdman!).
I could talk about them for hours but neither you or I have the time for that, which is why I will be dividing it in three; let’s start with Alfonso Cuarón.
Alfonso Cuarón studied filmmaking at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos in México City… and he dropped out. This by no means signifies that we should leave school! Well, not necessarily, but you get my point.
There he met director Carlos Marcovich and his future recurrent collaborator: cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
He worked in television, and on the series La Hora Marcada is where he met Guillermo del Toro. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and partnership. Alongside his brother, he wrote the script for his first movie: Sólo con tu Pareja, a sex comedy that follows a womanizing businessman who is fooled by a nurse into believing he has AIDS. This movie caught international attention, with director Sydney Pollack hiring Cuarón to direct an episode of Fallen Angels.
Then came his first big hit in Hollywood: A Little Princess, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A Little Princess did not do well in the box office but critics embraced it and it’s now considered a classic. He also directed a modern take of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations, starring Ethan Hawke, Robert De Niro and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Back in México, he co-wrote, produced and directed Y Tu Mamá También, considered one of the greatest, most successful films in Mexican history. It’s a comedy that follows two sexually obsessed teenagers who go on a road trip with a married woman in her late twenties. Y Tu Mamá También was a national and international success, giving Cuarón his first Oscar nomination alongside his brother for Best Original Screenplay.
Then came 2004, or the year Cuarón directed the best Harry Potter film of the franchise: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s not my Cuarón/Potter loving heart who says it’s the best; J.K Rowling herself said that he did such an accurate adaptation that she got chills when she saw the movie.
Probably the best part of having him in charge of a Harry Potter film (which, by the way, was the adaptation of my favorite book of the saga) is that he added a lot of small details related to Mexican culture, such as sugar skulls at Honeydukes and an eagle eating a snake at one of Hogwarts courtyards (the eagle and the snake are the symbol on our flag).
It’s not only the adaptation of my favorite Harry Potter book, made by one of my favorite directors, but it’s also the movie which introduces my favorite character (Sirius Black) played by my favorite actor (Gary Oldman). Excuse the fangirl/potterhead moment!
After the success of Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuarón made the dystopian thriller Children of Men, gaining Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. That was the year when the three amigos got Oscar nominations (Iñárritu for Babel and del Toro for El Laberinto del Fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth]).
Speaking of the three, during Cannes Festival in 2007, they signed a deal with Universal Pictures in which Universal will finance the first five films of Cha Cha Chá Films, the production company founded by them.
But now, let’s fast forward to 2010, when Cuarón starting working on a very ambitious science fiction film titled Gravity.
Written by Alfonso and his son, Jonás, Gravity blew our minds away in a master combination of visual artistry and an existential story that left us thinking about life. This movie was the highest point for both Cuarón and Lubezki, who finally got the recognition they deserved. Oh, and they also (finally!) won their Oscars for Best Director and Best Cinematography.
Finally, freaking finally.
As for the recurrent themes used in his films, he goes for spiritual, existential and at times catastrophic stories that whether you want it or not, always leave you rethinking what you knew about life.
A few years back, when I decided I want to be a filmmaker, Cuarón was my #1 reason and inspiration. He was my first reference of the “yes, we can” power that we, young filmmakers and more so filmmakers in México, need.
And knowing that he dropped out of the school that rejected some of my dearest friends just makes us love and admire him even more.
You go, Alfonso!
Next week’s episode: king of all things dark and fantastic, Guillermo del Toro. Stay tuned!