The Mexican Cinema Series: A Conclusion (7/7)

Over the course of the six prior entries in this series I’ve looked to discover the core factors behind the films of Mexico’s most recent new wave, the Buena Onda to find how Mexican cinema has been shaped by the nation’s supposed search for identity.

From the dictatorial leader General Diaz, about whom the nation’s first film was made, to the murder of the student protesters in 1968 which led to a string of politically charged films in the new wave of the 1970s, politics have loomed large over Mexican cinema right through to the twenty-first century. Political regimes have repeatedly impacted not only how Mexican filmmakers fund their projects, but ultimately also upon where their films are made, and what they represent thematically (the primary theme being identity).

(For the first post in the Mexican Cinema Series, click here).

As we saw in the previous post, in one of the early films of the Buena Onda, Cronos (1993), Guillermo Del Toro chose to portray the relationship between America and Mexico in a fantastical way, vampirism acting as a metaphor for relations between the two countries. Far different to this is the way in which Cuarón and Iñárritu have approached the topic of Mexico’s identity. Both have portrayed it through more realist based approaches to their films, showing a snapshot of Mexican life. With Y Tu Mamá También, Cuarón has commented on the social and political state of Mexico, and opened up a new side of Mexico outside of Mexico City to international audiences. And with Amores Perros, Iñárritu portrayed the middle-classes of Mexico City, those who make up the majority of the movie-goers in the city.

Alfonso Cuarón stated that the films have nothing in common other than being Mexican (Wood, 2006, p.1). But I’d suggest that it’s the fact that they are all Mexican which means that they do have far more in common than it might appear on the surface. They’re intrinsically linked by their identity and the themes which they explore at the core of their stories.

However, it cannot be suggested that the theme of identity in cinema is an exclusively Mexican one, with it being a recurring focus in world cinema as a whole. In Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), for example, identity is key, but it’s not as though Cuarón’s film was the first entry in the series to focus on Potter’s search for identity, with that being an important theme throughout the entire narrative. But it does seem fair to say that in this particular modern wave of Mexican cinema that it has become more pertinent than ever before in the nation’s cinematic output.

Cuarón was quoted in Long’s article (2006, p.4) as saying that Mexican film began to take ‘a direct approach to reality’ throughout the new wave. Which is a description in approach that can be applied to Cuarón’s own latest, Roma, an expression of his personal view of Mexico and what it is to be Mexican. In his 2019 BAFTA acceptance speech for Roma’s win in the Film Not in the English Language category, Cuarón noted, ‘Foreign is just a different colour, and colour complements each other…the specific colour of this film is Mexico.’

Identity is just one of the ways which this ‘direct approach to reality’ has coloured Mexican cinema. It’s not the only theme in the works of Del Toro, Cuarón and Iñárritu, but its significance is evident. As Del Toro put it, “…when people ask, ‘How can you define the Mexican-ness of your films?’ I go, ‘How can I not?’ It’s all I am.”

Through the Buena Onda, these filmmakers set the standards for Mexican cinema and laid the foundations for a spread of Mexican sensibilities throughout Hollywood. As a nation neighbouring with America, its culture has historically been significantly impacted by the US, with clichéd and stereotyped representations of Mexicans leading to a false generalisation of aspects of the nation being seen throughout the world. It’s the Buena Onda, and the works of Del Toro, Cuarón, Iñárritu (amongst others) that allowed Mexico to reflect its true self back throughout international culture. Finally, Mexico’s filmmakers were able to portray their own view of the nation, its society and politics, and in doing so increased representation and improved the perceived identity of the nation through the world, and importantly in Mexico itself.

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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.

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Thank you for reading the Mexican Cinema Series. If you’d like to see more in-depth explorations of cinema, let me know what you’d like to see covered in the comments below. And as ever, stay awesome, readers!

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