A young man asked on Friday night at the Fanny’s bar, the bar of the Museum of the Academy of Cinema, what was causing such a commotion. “It’s a Netflix event. Three Mexican directors are coming, ”the waitress replied while she was preparing a cocktail.
Those three filmmakers were Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, colleagues who share a homeland, an obsession with death and recent years marked by successes. With eleven Oscars under their belts between the three of them (five from Inarritu, four from Cuaron and two from Del Toro), the gathering turned Friday night into a major Hollywood event.
The evening began with a bit of nostalgia. Del Toro remembered the first photo of the three that went around the world. It was taken 16 years ago on the red carpet of the Oscars in February 2007. The Guadalajara-born filmmaker was nominated for Pan’s Labyrinth and Inarritu had received his first Best Director nomination for Babel. Both posed next to Cuaron. The friends’ career was taking off. They also did it as entrepreneurs with Cha Cha Cha, a company with which they helped produce and distribute five films. The family photo grew ten years later, in 2017, when the directors posed in Cannes with Salma Hayek, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Emmanuel Lubezki.
A lot has happened in these years. “Two marriages and 90 kilos later,” joked Del Toro, who along with Inarritu returns to a new awards season. Both do it with movies where they highlight their maturity as storytellers. The filmmaker from Guadalajara presents his adaptation of Pinocchio, a stop-motion animated film that highlights paternity, a subject he has meditated on after having lost both of his parents in the period since the premiere of The Shape of Water and its most recent film.
“There are many people who are going to their biographies. We are in a moment of self-reflection, thinking about where we are going,” said Del Toro, who will find out Tuesday if he wins any of the three Golden Globes for which he is nominated. The director cited some recent films where his colleagues have looked back. Among them, Steven Spielberg in The Fabelmans, Sam Mendes in The Empire of Light and The Time of Armageddon, by James Gray.
Inarritu is also promoting his most personal work. Bardo has proven to be challenging for viewers who follow his work since he surprised with Amores Perros at the turn of the 21st century. Inarritu once told the director of Rome that after making Babel he felt the need to renew his cinematographic language. “I knew I needed to reinvent myself. I was sick of myself,” said the Oscar winner for Birdman. The search for this new tool to communicate began with Biutiful, a film starring Javier Bardem that took him to Spain and back to Spanish after having shot 21 grams and Babel in English. “My films are an X-ray of an emotional moment. Even if you deny or suppress it. That’s why I can’t watch these movies. I can’t see things I can’t remember because they represent a time in life.
Focused on what will be his streaming television debut and without a movie to promote in the current cycle, Alfonso Cuaron limited himself to serving only as a moderator. This much to the frustration of del Toro, who tried to ask a couple of questions that the director of Children of Man avoided at all costs. “I didn’t get the memo or what… Here it says the three friends and this bastard doesn’t speak,” joked Del Toro to the laughter of the David Geffen auditorium, which was completely full.
Cuaron has been the center of gravity of the three-way friendship for decades. He and del Toro discovered, several decades later, that they were in the same theater watching the same movies. Cuaron’s family, originally from Mexico City, spent the summer at Lake Chapala, a resort near Guadalajara. In those summer countries, the minors, without knowing each other, marveled at El Santo against the vampire women, The werewolf and Melody.
Del Toro also remembered how he visited Cuarón at his house to tell him the plot of Pan’s Labyrinth in front of a chicken broth from beginning to end. “At the end, we were both crying,” said the creator of Hellboy, who this Friday confessed to the audience that he voices all the monsters that inhabit his filmography. From those that appear in Pacific Rim to the faun himself. “I have identified with them since I first saw Frankenstein. I thought ‘that’s my Jesus. That’s my saint,’” he added.
On another occasion, Cuarón, who had been making movies for years before filming Solo con tu pareja, called his friend one day to recommend that he see Amores Perros. This was the first film by a man who had trained in advertising. Del Toro listened and believed that the debut of the then-called Gonzalez Inarritu was “a masterpiece” with 20 minutes to spare. So I call him to tell him. Trust soon blossomed in the relationship and Del Toro flew from Austin, Texas, to Mexico to convince him to pull out the scissors and cut much of the second story that forms the plot.
Despite the trajectories they have achieved, at night there was also talk of failure. “Today in the morning a movie was rejected,” revealed Del Toro, who on January 24 will find out if his Pinocchio is nominated for an Oscar. Bardo failed to be nominated for any Golden Globes. Netflix is in the final stretch of the campaign for the nomination.
Inarritu affirmed that the experience has given him enough courage “to raise his voice in the face of rejection.” He used Birdman as an example, a film that studios turned him down for two years before it was finally made (and it won four Oscars in 2015). Bardo’s process was also uphill. I hear some no, but the need to do it was greater, so he began to finance it and thought about putting his house up for sale to achieve it. Before the streaming giant appeared, who has already given shelter to the three friends.