Alejandro Iñárritu Global Mexican Cinema

Paper by Lia Durham.

New Mexican Cinema emerged in the 1990’s and 2000’s after what is regarded as a generally declining period for Mexican Cinema. New Mexican Cinema uses satire, black humor, and especially graphic violence to portray it’s themes. Those themes consist of socio-political conflicts, including class divisions, also gender dynamics and issues with identity and tradition. Another interesting point is that some films from New Mexican Cinema have gained worldwide acclaim. Alejandro Iñárritu is one of the main directors of New Mexican Cinema and since the debut of his first feature film Amores Perros (2000) Iñárritu has been on a steady train of success worldwide. According to Laura Podalsky’s article “Landscapes of subjectivity in contemporary Mexican cinema” the ongoing popularity with Mexican auteurs such as Alejandro Iñárritu has led to larger industrial transformations that have taken place since the rise of the New Mexican Cinema in the 1990’s (161). In this analysis of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Amores Perros and Biutiful , I will examine how Iñárritu uses themes of New Mexican Cinema in his early work ( Amores Perros ) and still in his more recent work ( Biutiful ) to reveal how his successes as an acclaimed director worldwide has not deterred him from his roots as a Mexican director. In Dolores Tierney’s article “Alejandro González Iñárritu: director without borders”, she looks into how filmmakers like Iñárritu have embraced ideas of film globalization, by using an international cast and co-producing between two countries while still being categorized as a part of his home country’s national cinema (114). This means that it doesn’t matter if Biutiful is both a Mexican and Spanish production or that it’s lead actor is Spanish, the fact that Iñárritu and his collaboration with Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (who also was the cinematographer of Amores Perros ) are at the helm of the production the film will have themes of New Mexican Cinema. In particular, I will look at the themes of social divisions in both films to specifically focus on the recurring influences of New Mexican Cinema. This is significant because it proves my point that no matter where the film is made or who is in it Iñárritu always has New Mexican Cinema themes at the core of his films.

Amores Perros was Alejandro Iñárritu’s first feature film and it was made at the rise of the New Mexican Cinema movement. Rodrigo Prieto was the cinematographer and the partnership with Iñárritu created a film not only alive with New Mexican Cinema themes but visually vibrant, edgy and fast paced. Prieto focused on showcasing vibrant, high contrast colors using low key lighting which emphasized the feeling of suspense throughout the film. The story centers around a car accident which we see in the beginning of the film. After the initial accident we are shown three mini movies all involving someone who was at the scene of the wreck. First we meet Octavio and his life before the accident. He is a young man living with his mother, brother Ramiro, sister-in-law Susana and baby nephew. It is clear that they do not have a lot of money. Their house is not put together well, it is dirty and cluttered. In Madalina Pierseca’s article “Gender, Corporeality and Space In Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Amores Perros” she points out how “the working-class interior of Octavio’s house is dense, crowded and visually differentiated from room to room; the red room confines Susana and Ramiro’s space of sex and violence; the blue one is Octavio’s TV and cigarettes impregnated interior” (113). In the second story we meet Valeria, a beautiful model who has just moved in with her married boyfriend. We know she is successful at what she does because we see her on a tv talk show where the hosts are gushing over her career highlights. We then see the new apartment her boyfriend has just bought for them “Valeria’s story is shot almost entirely within her sterile new flat” (Pierseca 113). The apartment is clean and modern, there is art on the walls and it is parallel to a billboard of Valleria herself. Financially speaking her and her boyfriend are well off and are definitely part of a higher class in the social structure. The last story is El Chivo’s. He seems like a homeless man at first but we find that he actually has a place he stays at and for the most part is choosing to live in filth and squaller. “Chivo’s home is dirty and cluttered, a non-space which visually sustains his own social position. His body is as penetrated by decay as his house” (Pierseca 114). Unlike Octavio and his family Chivo has money. He can actually chose to leave his situation anytime he likes (which we see him do at the end of the film) his standing in the class structure is by choice a punishment he has placed on himself for abandoning his family. Iñárritu uses the character’s living spaces as clear indicators of where they stand in society in terms of money and class. Their homes play big parts in the stories, they are the foundations that they always come back to.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful (2010) shows us the dark underbelly of the real Barcelona. According to Benjamin Fraser’s article “A Biutiful City: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Filmic Critique of the ‘Barcelona model’” he states that “instead of the acclaimed ‘model’ Barcelona we have the ‘real’ Barcelona – that is, the drab, grimy city full of labour inequality, the collusion of police with multinationals, the reality of sickness (cancer) and the lack of real possibilities for the immigrants who come from abroad hoping to make a better life for themselves and for their families” (20). The film is about Uxbal a man whose life is falling apart. Early on in the film we learn he is facing death and as some cosmic joke his life begins to unravel what little structure it had to begin with. Even though Biutiful is set in Spain and it’s lead is a Spanish actor it is a very global movie. Uxbal works as a middleman between immigrants and employers. All under the table and off the books he negotiate terms between Chinese immigrants and factory “sweatshop” owners who make bootleg hand bags and illegal copies of movies. Uxbal then employs African immigrants to sell those items to tourist and people of a wealthier class. Uxbal also pays off the police in order for these illegal acts to occur. Iñárritu does an impeccable job of intertwining the different worlds of Barcelona. For example the scene in which the police come to raid where the African immigrants are selling the items. It seems like a rich part of town where tourist would go, perhaps like a Rodeo Drive of some sort. The police storm in and the African immigrants scatter and the chase begins to penetrate the wealthy people’s lives. They look at the scene in shock and dismay. It’s a perfect visual of the different classes affecting each other. We have the low (immigrant) class, the middle/working (police) class and the wealthy upper class (tourists) all in the same space. Prieto was also Iñárritu’s cinematographer on this film as well. To portray the realism of these class dynamics Preito and Iñárritu decided to shoot entirely on location to emphasize that these are real places in Barcelona. Uxbal may be the main chaacter in Biutiful and there is no doubt to his importance since he is in almost every scene, however Iñárritu acknowledges the importance of the stories around him and doesn’t focus on Uxbal’s single narrative. According to María Del Mar Azcona’s article ““We Are All Uxbal”: Narrative Complexity in the Urban Borderlands in Biutiful” states that “although the film in general focuses on Uxbal’s relentless journey toward death, the myriad lives and stories around him are presented with such vividness and poignancy that they challenge and disrupt the movie’s efforts to stick to its single protagonist” (3). Del Mar Azcona explains this is the case with Biutiful because of Iñárritu’s background in New Mexican Cinema. She says that “Iñárritu’s predilection for complex narratives may also be related to his industrial approach to making films since the beginning of his career” (4). This shows that even though by the time Iñárritu made Biutiful he had already successfully branched out from making films in Mexico with a fully Mexican cast he was still stylistically and story wise making films the same way with the same foundations and themes.

Dolores Tierney’s article “Alejandro González Iñárritu: director without borders” examines the boundaries of Mexican National Cinema. She believes that it is possible to look at films made by Mexican directors outside of Mexico, particularly in the United States, as part of the country’s national cinema (101). The fear of successful Mexican director’s working in the US and making US films is that they will absorb the US culture and forget about Mexico. The dismay is that they will abandon their unique vision and lose interest in the Mexican National Cinema and basically turn into Hollywood hacks. Thus the survival of the Mexican film industry and even Mexican National Cinema itself is at stake. Tierney’s article explores how Iñárritu’s work is part of the New Mexican Cinema movement even when it crosses borders while still holding nationalistic themes at heart (103). She argues against the fears I mentioned earlier and states that the transnational approach is beneficial to creating something new and does not mean Iñárritu is selling out his culture (102). Amores Perros is a good example of this even though some may say US filming practices were used in this film it is not a Hollywood production but more like an American Indie production which are inherently anti-Hollywood and anti-American at times. An example of this is that cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto used a handheld camera to film creating a documentary-style camerawork. Also it is clear that all of the shooting was done on location and not at a studio, giving a more realistic feel to the film. This shows both Prieto and Iñárritu’s desire to do something different than the way Hollywood would do it. Tierney also looks at Iñárritu’s film Babel , this film emphasizes the differences between many cultures including American and Mexican (110). We also see different class groups between these cultures. Babel is a great example of a global film. It’s hard to say that it belongs to a certain country because there are multiple languages in the film plus different cultures and it is shot in different countries. However because it is an Iñárritu film I believe it can be categorized as a New Mexican Cinema film.

Alejandro Iñárritu is not the only Mexican director from New Mexican Cinema that has branched out to a more global status. His colleagues and friends Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro have also opposed traditional Mexican film practices of state funded projects and have preferred private investments to guarantee their creative freedom. According to Del Mar Azcona This has led Iñárritu toward exploring more transnational coproductions, like Biutiful which is a Mexican and Spanish coproduction (4). This caused tension and cultural struggles over the film’s national identity. Especially during the praise the film was receiving at award shows. At the Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Mexico rather than Spain, in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Del Mar Azcona says that “the multiplicity of the contemporary individual’s experience of living in a complex world defines both Iñárritu’s fictional worlds and his cinematic practices”. Our world is complicated and certain people and governments want to crack down on our borders and secure the lines between us. There may be an argument for that with national security but I believe there should be no borders when it comes to art. Filmmakers should stay true to who they are and honor where they have come from but it doesn’t make sense to constrain oneself to their home country when it comes to filmmaking. Iñárritu is a Mexican filmmaker, but he is not bound to Mexico he is bound to the story he wants to tell and that may lead him beyond Mexico. Nevertheless I believe it will be easy to spot New Mexican Cinema themes in any of his films past, present and future.

Bibliography

Iñárritu, Alejandro. Amores Perros . Mexico: Altavista Films, 2000. Film.

Iñárritu, Alejandro. Biutiful . Mexico, Spain. Menageatroz, 2010. Film.
Tierney, Dolores. “Alejandro González Iñárritu: Director Without Borders”. New Cinemas:

Journal of Contemporary Film 7.2 (2009): 101-117. Web. 12 May 2017.

Podalsky, Laura. “Landscapes Of Subjectivity In Contemporary Mexican Cinema”. New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 9.2 (2012): 161-182. Web. 12 May 2017.

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