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Mexican Cinema 1990 >>

Viki Walden | Tuesday November 06, 2012

Categories: A Level, WJEC A Level, WJEC A2, FM4, Section A: World Cinema, Film History, Films & Case Studies,
World Cinema, Cronos, Y Tu Mam Tambin, Genres & Case Studies, Mexican

Background: The Beginnings

To fully comprehend any one period in a countrys cinema, there needs to be some contextualisation. Early Mexican filmmakers
profited from the turbulent times the country faced at the turn of the century. The civil war was the subject of many silent films;
several significant battles were documented on camera. As the country began to stabilize during the 1930s, filmmakers had a
myriad of social issues to choose from as themes for their films. However, they preferred a detachment from reality and this
tradition would continue.

After the Second World War, Mexican cinema entered its Golden Age characterized by formulaic, commercial films. Counter
to this was the work of Spanish migr, Luis Buuel. His surrealist films often attacking bourgeois values established him as
one of the countrys most important filmmakers though because of his nationality many debate this status.

As the baby boom filmmakers of America produced edgy and youthful offerings, so the middle class Mexicans abandoned the
work of their countrymen in favour of Hollywoods new generation. Rather than compete, Mexican filmmakers favoured the
commercial style. From the 1960s to 1980s sex comedies, drug traffic films, action films, punk action films and melodramas
targeting a less-educated audience were the most common national productions at the cinema.

While many countries were in the midst of a new wave, filmmakers in Mexico were uninspired by their socio-political climate;
stabilized after the revolution and World War 2, the existing socio-economic problems were constant as was the reigning
Communist PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) government. No major events had
happened to capture the interests of filmmakers, bar the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.
In the 1980s, PRI faced its first convincing opposition party, the right-wing PAN (Partido de Accin Nacional, National Action
Party). As economic and social crisis continued to worsen in the 90s, the government had no choice but to adopt a more
democratic approach to their ruling and co-operate with PAN and other rising parties. While filmmaking was treated with some
skepticism in the 1980s - as if it might be a security threat, not an art form - by the end of the decade IMCINE ( Instituto
Mexicano de Cinematografa, the public body responsible for promoting the production and distribution of Mexican film) merged
with the Council for Culture and the Arts under the Ministry of Public Education. National cinema was finally getting the status it
deserved. However, this was too little too late for the disastrous 1980s. The death of distinguished and popular star Dolores
del Rio and surrealist Spanish filmmaker Luis Buuel meant the industry lost both an icon of its classic populist cinema, and a
political film artist who revealed the subversive side of cinema. Many other filmmakers from the classical period either retired or
died during the decade.

Mexico was a country full of talent, but lacked funding. There was outrage when $500,000 was given to fund the US production
of Superman, when the industry was struggling so. When Alberto Isaac, then director of IMCINE spoke out about the
controversy he was forced out of his post.

Filmmakers battled to appeal to the international market in a hope this would also bring back the middle-class Mexican
audience they had lost. Paul Ledcs Frida, Naturaleza Viva (Frida, Living Nature, 1986) was a sophisticated global

A biopic of the iconic Mexican artist would instantly attract international attention, but the films impressionist montage structure
also attracted the art house market. The films international appeal was helped by the release of a biography and exhibition of
her work in Washington DC. Other films, such as Gaby (1987) were made in English, but often to the detriment of Mexican

With rising populations in urban areas, a devastating earthquake, growing health and pollution concerns, and financial crisis in
the 80s the path was laid for the turbulent decade ahead. The 1990s were coloured by corruption leading to the celebrated, but
still problematic, shift to democracy in 2000.

In the 1980s filmmaker Pelayo said:

Im optimistic that well arrive in the decade of the 1990s because well have the cinematic product thatll enable us to
reach out to an international public. For a film industry to have this appeal, it has to be profoundly national. [184]

While he correctly predicted the Mexican New Wave, it was in fact a further push towards globalised productions that brought
this to fruition. The key players of the New Wave were auteurs, but those that brought Mexican cinema to the worlds attention
made only one or two films, each, in the country.

Escaping Realism: Guillermo del Toros Cronos

In 1993, ambitious first-time director Guillermo del Toro started a ripple which signalled the beginning of a New Wave for
Mexican cinema. It started with his genre-bending Vampire film, Cronos.

Shying away from a realist style, even with his first film, del Toro established himself as a non-traditionalist Mexican filmmaker.
Rather than question the world around him, as a child witnessing the violence of the city Guadalajara, Jalisco del Toro escaped
into fantasy worlds. While his devout Roman Catholic grandmother would attempt to instil the fear of purgatory and hell into
him, del Toro would welcome monsters into his world - they offered an escape from a reality of horror.

The theme of childhood is central to all of his Spanish-language films (and even to some extent his Hollywood productions),
while adults in his films are quick to disregard and ignore the children, it is the children who show their cunning and wisdom. By
opening their eyes, the children see more - beyond the surface of reality - and are able to find ways out of murderous

Del Toro felt exiled from the Mexican industry after Cronos at a time when filmmakers were trying to re-establish a national
cinema, he had created a popular genre film. It had taken del Toro four years to raise the funds from the Mexican Film Institute,
who disliked the final product. There was genuine surprise within the industry when Cronos was the first Mexican film in 30
years to win an award at Cannes, before going on to win another 20 awards internationally.
Like many of his counterparts, del Toro moved to Hollywood. While this was sparked by the kidnap of his father in 1998, it is
likely that he would have made the move to Hollywood eventually. After directing Mimic (1997), del Toro turned once again to
Hispanic culture making The Devils Backbone (2001) and later the international sensation Pans Labyrinth (2006).

Unlike Cronos, he ditched a Mexican setting in favour of a Spanish place and plot. He claims he had wanted to make a film
about the Mexican Revolution, but felt that this was a revolution that had never truly ended. The two films focus on the Spanish
Civil War. This was a war del Toro had seen come to an end in his lifetime. Del Toro has explained that the Spanish Civil War is
a household war, the brutality of which proves that the only real monsters are human - an image he must be able to relate to
his own experiences in Mexico.

Cronos is del Toros only feature made in Mexico, a film which pits a dying millionaire capitalist - who seems to have made his
fortunes in America and the everyman antique dealer against each other in their fight over the Cronos device a mechanical,
vampiric object which gives eternal life.

The Cronos device is created by the Alchemist in the 16th century, at the dawn of the Spanish Empire - the machine lives
through shifts in Mexicos national history: from early Spanish invasion to revolution to communist state and eras of
technological change: from early clockwork mechanics to biotechnology (which it represents by becoming one with its victims).
The constant object appears to represent the constant land of Mexico - which has stood exactly where it is despite how its
society has changed - from invasion to globalization.

Yet, del Toro appears neither to criticise nor celebrate globalization, emphasizing his non-nationalist style. He blurs the
boundaries between national and global product, both in content and planned distribution.

The film is clearly designed for an international market with Ron Perlman, the homage to American horror films particularly
the work of cult director David Cronenberg and references to his films Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) and the films
bilingualism. Yet, the greedy capitalist de la Guardia is living beyond his time - most of his body parts are literally in jars in his
warehouse. He also holds power over Jesus, withholding the instructions from him and ensuring that Jesus becomes addicted
to the power of the Cronos device. However, Jesus - who should be our everyman hero - is an anti-hero. His young
granddaughter is subjected to grotesque horrors and must save her grandfather. Both Jesus and de la Guardia cannot satisfy
their desires without the other; their inability to work together leads to disaster. Their conflict represents the external capitalist
threat, which has become more prevalent in the country since the governments acceptance of a more democratic approach,
and the Mexican everyman. Del Toro seems to suggest that the capitalist be invited in, both de la Guardia and his grandson
Angel - biblically suggestive names - need to release the horrors and torment of the everyman. However, their greed and
selfishness makes it impossible for them to do so, and the everyman is easily bewitched by the desirable temptation of
capitalism - the addiction of the Cronos device.

The surrealist tradition of Buuel continues to influence del Toros work. Though del Toros use of heavy gothic visuals
(particularly in the warehouse and Jesus first night after Cronos) is reminiscent of German Expressionism and early American
horror, what makes the film so very Mexican is its borrowing of conventions from across the globe. It is a product of
globalization: the new world.

The film sets up a binary opposite between Jesus, an antique dealer - obsessed with the objects of the past - and la Guardia - a
millionaire, who it seems has made his fortune in America and who is obsessed with biotechnology (hoping it will provide him
with a cure from his illness). This contrast alludes to the changing face of Mexican culture as it entered a period of globalistion
and (the slow) demise of communism. The contrast also reflects the conflict within the countrys film industry: skilful talent from
the country (like antique artefacts) who represent the potential wealth of the national industry versus the temptation of profit and
stardom (like la Guardias obsession with wealth and immortality) Hollywood can offer. Those filmmakers who continue to be
internal - to look inwards to Mexican culture and stay in their homeland - do not fare as well as those who leave and make their
fortune and fame in Hollywood. The film in this way reflects del Toros own status as the non-traditionalist Mexican filmmaker,
yet a global sensation.


Interview with del Toro from the DVD

For a detailed background of del Toro, check out the insert of the DVD box set of Cronos, Devils Backbone and Pans

Information on del Toros Mexican heritage and its influence on his work:


Del Toros official website.

The Realism of Life: Alfonso Cuarns Y Tu Mam Tambin

Cuarn, like del Toro, is a director who crosses borders. After making his first film, Slo Con Tu Pareja (Love in the Time of
Hysteria, 1991) he left his home country for England, making the Little Princess (1995) and Great Expectations (1998) in the

However, it was in 2001 that he made his 2nd and most famous Mexican film Y Tu Mam Tambin (2001). Like so many of his
predecessors the bright lights of Hollywood were too attractive and he went on to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkaban (2004) soon after.

During his time at film school (the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematogrficos (CUEC)) Cuarn explains:

I was repeatedly told the words fascist, macho, bourgeois. Everything was ideology. I was politicized but not that
prejudiced. Inside were people that wanted to make political ideology, rather cinema I insisted that a good movie
could have a political content and a political and ideological elevation, stronger than a discursive propaganda film.

As del Toro felt excommunicated because he made a popular genre film, so too Cuarn felt the wrath against popular, global
production qualities when he was expelled from the school for making a film in English - the language of the global film world,
not the national one. Cuarn wanted to break away from the politicization of film, and the obsession with a national cinema.

Y Tu Mam Tambin is a film that captures the politics of a Mexico-in-limbo, yet in the context of a light-hearted coming of age
movie. The film follows 17-year-old best friends Tenoch and Julo. They are highly-sexed, enjoy drinking copious amounts of
alcohol and experimenting with mind-altering drugs. When both their girlfriends go travelling around Italy, the two jokingly ask
28-year-old Spanish Luisa, married to Julos cousin, to go to a beach called Heavens Mouth and are surprised when she
accepts. The beach doesnt exist, but they work their way to a beach eventually. However, it is not the destination, but the
journey that is important as the boys receive a sexual awakening, test their friendship and become men.

Cuarn adopts a magical realist approach. He combines documentary-style filmmaking, using a lot of wide shots or static group
shots (giving a fly-on-the-wall feel to the film), chatty dialogue, natural lighting and little pronunciation of dialogue over
background sound, with a Godardian narration that interrupts the action. The director has on several occasions explained that
Godards Masculine Feminine (1966) influenced the production, as Cuarn is central to the Mexican New Wave, so Godard
was to the French. They both hail the voice of a new generation. The jarring effect of the Godardian narration reinforces the
continuity between past, present and future. Like the Cronos device, the voiceover is a constant presence through time - the
voice of the land of Mexico.


Despite the unrest and uncertainty of the time, expressed in the film by continuous images of armed police and street
demonstrations, the narrative gives no more emphasis to political events than it does to the boys experiences.


While, they and the audience focus on their sexual exploits, we are not concerned about the PRI losing government power after
71 years, nor are we aware that Luisas body is riddled with a cancer that will kill her just days after their trip.


However, the jarring delivery of the narrative - the removal of diegetic sound and brief pause of the image before it begins -
forces the audience to be attentive. An authoritative, storytelling male voice expresses snippets of the social conditions of
Mexico, from the tragic death of a migrant man hit by a bus because taking the alternative route read out with no more sense of
urgency than a shopping list (the pedestrian bridge would add a further 2 hours to his journey to an example of the Presidents
daily routine). The voiceover is objective, an omnipotent observer. However, the disembodied voice also tells the audience
private things about the boys lives.

The Presidents attendance at the family wedding shows Jelos wealth, but symbolically expresses that the politics of Mexico is
at everyones dining table, in everyones family and embedded in peoples every action. The countrys macro politics are not
detached from the micro world of the people. In one day, the narrator explains, the President will discuss candidates for the
next election, deal with the Ceno Verda massacre, deny state government involvement and attend a conference of
Globalisation in Seattle. However, while Curns film continuously makes a link between the then, now and the future and the
political world and the peoples, it isnt an ideological film. It doesnt tackle the effects of government policy on the people, it
merely expresses that the peoples lives and the policies coexist.

While the boys come from different class backgrounds, this only bothers them when they fight. However, when they call each
other peasant and yuppy they are only using the status as a tool to insult - in reality it does not concern them. Fundamentally
they are the same; they both slept with each others girlfriends, do drugs, drink, have the same worries, go on to university and
both ejaculate early.

The film is a comedy, but the narrative is drenched in sorrow. Beautiful moments of joy are interrupted by tragic punchlines.
When Luisa reminisces about her first love her face is aglow with happiness, she shares secrets with the boys and they all
laugh. When she is asked what happened the mood drops dramatically and she replies: He died. After making her last phone
call to her boyfriend, Lusia pauses in the phone booth. In high key lighting she appears trapped and claustrophobic in the
space, as the window frame of the booth closes in on her. She breaks down and cries. In contrast, on the other side of the
screen, the window of an empty booth reflects the boys in the distance. They are shouting loudly as they have fun playing pool.

The micro world of the boys reflects the politics of the country. They have created a group with a manifesto, which focuses on
being anti-American (so importantly, its repeated twice), masturbation, taking drugs, drinking, living freely and not sleeping with
each others girlfriends. The latter being the only rule neither of them commits to. The sense that they feel free, hate America,
and do not keep to their own policies reflects the corruption of the 1990s government and the beginning of the fall of

To the foreigner, Lusia, who knows little of the countrys past or politics, Mexico is a wonderful place. Despite Heavens Mouth
not existing, she and the boys find a beach that becomes her final resting place - her heaven. She loves the country exclaiming:
Youre so lucky to live in Mexico Mexico, Magical, Musical. For her, the country is a paradise.

After the trip the boys part, but bump into each other in a year or so. As the narrator tells us, the government has now changed
- Mexico has become a democracy. The boys sit awkwardly in a coffee shop. Tencho makes his excuses and leaves. They are
polite and civil, but not friends. The fantastical Mexico of their past with its system has gone. Is this an allegory to politics? Or
simply a reflection that individuals ideas and beliefs have more impact on their daily lives than the politics of the country. Both
have new girlfriends and both are going to university, they have lost or gain little from the political change. However the trip
destroyed their friendship and helped them develop from boys to men with the help of a foreign friend.

Indiewire interview with Cuarn:


Watch The Guardians interview with Cuarn:


An interesting essay on Cuarns use of the long take in the shadow of Globalisation:

His imdb.com biography also has a lot to offer: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0190859/bio.


What do we mean by a New Wave? If we look back at the Nouvelle Vague or the Japanese New Wave of the 00s, both
offered a series of auteurs rather than a slate of similar films. While some of the filmmakers shared concerns, what gave their
films critical acclaim was the style of each director. They were forward thinking and offered something different: a new
generation culturally and cinematically. Each of the filmmakers offered something unique - their signature - their view of the
world, often littered with fantastical references, yet with a solid grounding in realism. Their films were personal reflections -
dreams or nightmares at times - of the world they were in conflict with. Godard and Truffaut: the conflict of generations; Miike
and Nakata: the conflict of traditional, spiritual Japanese ways and the influence of Western influence.

The Mexican New Wave has its definitive auteurs: del Toro, Cuarn and Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu (Amores Perros)
nicknamed The Three Amigos. (See the FilmEdu resource on Amores Perros)

The three at the centre of the movement have all crossed national-global borders. What makes modern Mexican film a new
wave is its combination of global styles and influences, and its reflection of contemporary Mexican life, on the cusp of the
countrys entry into democracy and the global market.

Under Communism, it is only natural for a people to look inward and post-revolutionary Mexico was a place where filmmakers
didnt want to focus on the countrys socio-economic crisis. Both creators of films and audiences wanted to escape the realities
they faced. As a 2nd revolution took place through the 1990s, and the industry was desperately seeking ways to appeal to their
middle class market, Mexican filmmakers and artists explored individual perspectives on their country - a place in conflict. As
the conflict settled and a new regime took its place, filmmakers could look both inwards and outwards and they did - both
personally, making films abroad and at home, and stylistically - reaching a global audience with their Mexican works.

Mora, J.C (2005) Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society (3rd Ed) North Carolina, USA:
McFarland & Company Inc

Wood, J (2006) The Faber Book of Mexican Cinema London, UK: Faber and Faber

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