For the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, a banner year that has included winning the Academy Award for best director was capped Monday night with a tribute at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for his life’s work.
Though he has been making films for 20 years, first coming to prominence with American art house audiences with the coming-of-age sex romp “Y Tu Mamá También,” it’s his blockbusters, like last year’s “Gravity,” that have given him a worldwide fan base that apparently includes everyone from powerful machers — Michael Bloomberg, Julian Schnabel, Jonathan Tisch and Soumaya Slim, the daughter of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú — to Leelee Sobieski, Poppy Delevingne, Joan Smalls and Katie Holmes. Were they all big fans of the early funny movies or the big extravaganzas?
“I like ‘Pan.’ That was amazing. And ‘A Little Princess.’ I guess I like the kids’ stuff,” Sobieski said. She had it almost right. “Pan’s Labyrinth” belongs to the other Mexican director of Cuarón’s generation, Guillermo del Toro, who along with Alejandro González Iñárritu ushered in a new wave of Latin cinema in the early 2000s. Del Toro, who saluted his comrade in film before introducing a career-spanning highlight reel that was partly in 3-D, met Cuarón almost 30 years ago on the set of a crummy Mexican horror show called “Hora Marcada,” which roughly translates to “Zero Hour.”
“It was like ‘The Twilight Zone’ with no resources,” he said.
“We were big film nerds,” Cuarón said of del Toro. “We discovered we had a common language. The first thing he said to me was, ‘Your show sucks.’ I thought, ‘I like this guy.’”
Both their careers have taken on a similar trajectory, from small independent movies in Spanish to big summer blockbusters, but they return often to the themes from their earlier work.
“I don’t think so much in terms of size, but about the theme. ‘Gravity’ is a small movie about one character. It just happens to be set in a vast place,” Cuarón said.
Over the years, the bond between the three trailblazers of the new Mexican cinema has deepened. They share an interest in the same political causes — Cuarón and del Toro both spoke from stage against the Mexican’s government handling of rampant violence back home — and champion each other’s work. Iñárritu couldn’t make it to the museum because he was filming but sent a congratulatory taped message to his good friend, whom he has affectionately nicknamed “Cabrón,” or “f—er.” Meanwhile, Cuarón is a big fan of Iñárritu’s new critically acclaimed film, “Birdman.”
“It’s a masterpiece,” he said. “In my opinion at least, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.” That’s what people were saying around this time last year about his “Gravity,” and you know how well that worked out at the Oscars.