Viva Mexico!

By David Jenkins


With a major season just finished at London’s National Film Theatre and new films from Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu in the pipeline, Mexican cinema is currently riding a huge wave of both domestic and international appreciation. Sticking to the tried and tested Faber style, the prolific and committed Jason Wood’s latest book is a thoughtful compendium of one-to-one interviews that draws its conclusions via pure personal testimony and some thoroughly dynamic editing. We open on Mexico’s first ‘Golden Age’ which ran from the early silent films of the 1920s right through to the 1960s, with explicit reference to the work of Artuto Ripstein and Alfredo Joskowitz, reminding us also that it was in Mexico where Buñuel cut his teeth as a director. Things hit rock bottom in the early 1980s when the state cinema budget sank to an all-time low, and things on that front have barely improved since with the current government doing all it can to get rid of both IMCINE, the Mexican Film Institute and the CCC, Mexico’s most prominent film school.

It’s the breadth of the access which makes this book so vital and so engaging, with pleasingly cine-literate ramblings from del Toro, Cuarón and Carlos Reygadas, to name but a few. Wood also conducts the interviews in a style that allows for anecdotes to slide seamlessly into the more weighty ruminations, as when del Toro recalls that he had to sell his van in order to make the clockwork scarab which features at the heart of his 1993 work Cronos. The text also imparts a great sense of community from the directors, as del Toro again says that in return for Cuarón amending an early draft of his script for The Devil’s Backbone, he recommended special effects and make-up teams to work with him on the third Harry Potter film.

The book goes into minute detail on the conception and making of international hits such as Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También, but perhaps the most interesting section is the discussion concerning the making of Reygadas’ Japon, which really offers one of the first signs of a more cerebral, non-audience led Mexican cinema. The director recalls intimate details about the process by which he creates and captures images, and how he intends to build upon and not just mimic his important cinematic influences, namely Tarkovsky and Kiarostami. Also, unlike his contemporaries, Reygadas has no plans to migrate north in search of ‘bigger budgets and Tom Cruise’, as he puts it. In this sense, the book portrays Mexican cinema generally as more of a breeding ground than a thriving, self-sustaining entity, with many of the higher profile directors and actors (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) all choosing to work in English and European language cinemas on the back of their breakthrough.

So what of the future for this exciting new movement? Rest assured, for those thinking it could just be a flash in the pan, Alfonso Cuarón reminds us of the old Claude Chabrol adage, “there is no wave, only an ocean”.

The Faber Book of Mexican Cinema by Jason Wood (Faber and Faber, £15.99)

David Jenkins writes for the film pages of Time Out London and Little White Lies.