Over the past decade, the Academy Awards have been a showcase for and celebration of the incredible works by a select group of Mexican directors. From 2014 to 2019, 5 of the 6 awards given out were presented to filmmakers of Mexican descent. However, as Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro have found their careers gradually integrated with Hollywood, their country of origin has increasingly fallen into the background. This is in spite of their strongest work lying in the early films that they produced in their home country. Last year, Roma became the first Mexican entry to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars – while Cuarón won Best Director with this melancholic return to his roots. This was an important leap for the Mexican film industry, with the film’s stunning cinematography and gentle storytelling helping to exhibit the realist style that has long been on display in Mexican cinema.
Mexican cinema has very much evolved since its ‘Golden Age’ in the 1930s. Inspired by European ‘New Wave’ movements, Mexican cinema at the turn of the millennium resembled something experimental and progressive, with recent college graduates injecting a youthful perspective into the country’s industry. This refreshing change was brought about by the likes of romantic drama Como Agua Para Chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate (1992), Del Toro’s independent monster-horror Cronos (1993), and Iñárritu’s gritty triptych Amores Perros (2000), as well as Cuarón’s sensual road-trip movie Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Y Tu Mamá También could not vary more from Cuarón’s Hollywood movies – it’s a far cry from Gravity. The coming-of-age film, starring popular Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, delves deep into the lives of two young men who befriend an older woman. She shows them a road toward freedom as the group travel and discover the country’s varied geography. Depicting the lives of both urban and indigenous communities, Y Tu Mamá También captures the realities of life for those living in the beautiful, but vastly different, country of Mexico.
Even if a number of Mexican directors are turning to Hollywood for big-budget production, it is important to look back and appreciate a cinema that is distinctly not Hollywood. The discussed films offer little obvious obstructions for those watching worldwide. Although they require subtitles for non-Spanish speaking audiences, the storytelling and creative imagery allows these films to be understood on a universal level. Utilising a range of genres, the early works of Cuarón, Iñárritu and del Toro – and their contemporaries – are definitely worth seeking out.
Roma (2018), directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is available to stream now via Netflix, certificate 15. Watch the trailer below: