Over the course of 2000 and 2001 Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón released Amores Perros, The Devil’s Backbone and Y Tu Mamá También respectively, grossing a total of over $55 million between them on an estimated combined budget of $11.5 million; a solid profit for three consecutive major releases from a nation whose cinema hadn’t had significant international success in several years. The result: instantaneous international attention.
(For part one of the Mexican Cinema Series, click here.)
Three culturally significant films by Mexican directors, none of which were funded by the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE). For The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Del Toro was told by IMCINE that he didn’t need their funds following his success with Cronos (1993), and his progression into Hollywood with Mimic (1997), leading Del Toro to state (2005, p. 112) that ‘it was a no-win relationship, and has continued like that.’ Herein lay a major issue for the film industry in Mexico. Whilst the talent is there, the financing was in Hollywood. Which is exactly where many of the nation’s filmmakers ended up as a result.
IMCINE did, however, fund The Crime of Father Amaro (2002) which became the highest grossing film in Mexico of all time on release, and found international distribution, making an immediate profit on its $1.3 million budget (2002). With a politically charged narrative focussing on corruption in the church, its detractors – who attempted to get the film banned – inadvertently greatly raised awareness of it in the media, in no small part helping its box-office ratings.
There have been other sporadic Mexico set and shot hits since, including Alfonso Cuarón’s brother Carlos’s feature-length directorial debut Rudo y Cursi (2009), which became the fifth-highest grossing film in Mexico’s local box office history on its release, but largely its key filmmakers have looked elsewhere in developing their projects.
Distribution of Mexican cinema:
Iñárritu, Del Toro and Cuarón’s career outside of Mexico hasn’t been founded on a belief that Hollywood is the pinnacle of filmmaking. Rather Hollywood is simply the place where they can get the funding needed to make their films. Bosch commented that:
“Unlike the film-makers of the 1960s, most of whom were driven by a purely artistic or political force, but despised the business side of the industry, Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, the guys who have all emerged alongside, all understand the business side of film-making.”
(Bosch 2006, p. 46)
If their films are to be seen by a large audience, or even to be funded in the first place, then it’s clear that there becomes an instant roadblock if the trio were to continue making their films in Mexico. To this day international distribution of Mexican cinema remains poor, with even Alfonso Cuarón’s debut film Solo Con Tu Pareja (1991) not widely available in the UK despite the wide recognition he’s earned since. Likewise, Francisco Vargas’s El Violin (2005) won awards internationally and yet struggled for distribution (O’Boyle, 2007).
O’Boyle (2007) also states that ‘Mexican films took in 4.7% of the 2006 local Box Office’, signalling that despite the industry being in a healthier position than it was in the ’90s, the likelihood remained that US cinema and international cinema would take precedent over Mexican films. So in opening up to the possibility of working outside of Mexico, these directors statistically improved the odds of their films being seen in their home nation.
Mexicans working in Hollywood:
While Del Toro, Iñárritu and Cuarón chose to work outside of Mexico, Carlos Carrera, director of the critically lauded The Crime of Father Amaro (2002), continued his career in Mexico. It would be seven years before he would release his follow up feature; seven years in which his peers shot at least two films each.
Meanwhile, in spite of the fact that the three key figures became Hollywood mainstays, their sensibilities and storytelling approach remained intrinsically linked to Mexico, their combined successes playing a large role in changing the perceived identity of the nation throughout the world. Iñárritu (2006, p.142) insists that ‘a country is an idea that can be expressed through images, words and many other forms of expression.’ The themes, visual styles and socio-political leanings that the filmmakers developed in Mexico carried forward into the work that they did outside of the nation, no more so than with Alfonso Cuarón’s critical big hitter, Roma (2018). Though they now operate at the highest end of the industry, the roots of their filmmaking approach remain firmly Mexican.
Many hours of reading and research were conducted to ensure that events are described as accurately as possible. To see the full reading and viewing list for more Mexican cinema goodness, hit up the following link.