The last wave of Mexican cinema

By the turn of this century, the world had almost forgotten that Mexican films even existed. Then the explosion happened, as a new generation of filmmakers not only put their country on the world cinema map, but conquered Hollywood: Alfonso Cuarón (of breakthrough Y tu mamá también To Rome, Going through Gravity and even a Harry potter); the horror / fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro (The shape of water); and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who arguably started the new wave with his 2000 drama Loves Perros.

Since the emergence of this trio, Mexican cinema has continued to be visible in the festivals and arthouse circuits. But 2021 in particular has brought a slice of new films that show the country’s screen culture in its most varied and inventive. One of the most exciting premiered in Berlin in March – the unclassifiable A cop movie by Alonso Ruizpalacios. “Unclassifiable” because, according to its director, A cop movie is a documentary – and yet it hardly feels like it. He follows two subordinate police officers from Mexico City, Teresa and Montoya, partners on the rhythm and in domestic life. As they recount their experiences on the streets, Ruizpalacios brings their memories to life in dynamic reconstructions that include Teresa delivering a baby and a frenzied chase on the city’s metro.

Marco Perez in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2000 drama ‘Amores Perros’ © Alamy

Emmanuel Lubezki (left, director of photography) and Alfonso Cuarón on the set of ‘Y tu mamá también’ © Alamy

Just as we marvel at the liveliness of these sequences – they’re performed in a style that resembles vintage Scorsese, or the ’70s TV shows of the Starry sky and Hutch school – Ruizpalacios pulls back the curtain to introduce Mónica Del Carmen and Raúl Briones, the two actors who have always played Teresa and Montoya, in lip sync with the officers’ actual narratives – and who are now seen making video diaries on training for roles in the police academies of Mexico City.

As the title suggests, A cop movie plays with gender and with public preconceptions about real and fictional police work. But, says Ruizpalacios, this is also a serious attempt to investigate his subject.

“I came in with the aim of making a film that would have a social impact. We started with the idea of ​​doing something about the corruption crisis in Mexico. We had the best public safety advisers in the country, and one of them said to me: “You are going to get to know the police, you have to put all your prejudices behind you.”

The director and his crew began by talking to the officers on the beat, asking them about their work and their lives – something that didn’t come naturally to him or his cast. “Raúl Briones says in his video diary that he sees a policeman and he doesn’t feel safe – the first thing you feel is distance, lack of confidence, even fear. But once we started talking to the police, we started to confront our biases, and that’s what I wanted the audience to go through. ”

A cop movie is empathetic towards his two real-life subjects, but very revealing of the systemic corruption of the Mexican police. It also raises teasing questions about authority and what it means to take on a professional role: as Briones says, “Wearing this uniform gives so many different messages: I realized it had become my skin, I was wearing the skin. of State “.

Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios © Netflix

The film is Ruizpalacios’ third, following his exuberant and highly regarded debut in 2014 Gueros, inspired by the 1999 Mexico City student protests, which he began writing while studying theater at RADA in London, and Museum (2018), a conscious heist film that was really about the buying and selling of Mexican history. Ruizpalacios says he tries to make films that go against the grain of what he calls Mexico’s “wave of pornographic misery”, a cinema preoccupied with hard times, violence and the wars on drugs (the national public , meanwhile, favors broad commercial comedies when it comes to local dishes).

But whatever definition of darker content in Mexican cinema, its power should not be dismissed. Violence has been at the center of several of the country’s key films in recent years: most striking in the recent controversial release New order, by Michel Franco. This aggressively dystopian drama imagines an armed uprising of the Mexican working class. Some critics attacked him as embodying a paranoid terror of the nation’s brown skin. metis and poor natives, others saw it rather as a bitter indictment of its pampered rich whites.

Naian González Norvind in Michel Franco’s dystopian drama “New Order”, which has been criticized for its portrayal of the Mexican working class

Michel Franco was very present at the Venice Film Festival this year, with his last feature film To sleep – Tim Roth experiences soul collapse and more violence in Acapulco – and as producer of the spare realistic drama La Caja (The box) by Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas. This film is about a Mexican teenager investigating the suspicious death of his father, this time linked to unscrupulous labor practices.

The point is, violence is hard to escape in Mexican art cinema, but there are different ways of showing it. Take this year’s Cannes success Civilian, a tense and non-sensational drama in which a woman searches for her abducted daughter; it’s a Romanian director, Teodora Mihai, with Franco again among the producers. Or the other Cannes breakthrough of 2021 Prayers for the stolen, a fictional feature film by documentary filmmaker Tatiana Huezo. Located in a mountainous southwestern region, three girls reach adulthood in a poppy-growing community, under threat of violence from drug cartels and mining companies.

Three girls grow up under threat of violence in “Prayers for the Stolen” by Tatiana Huezo

“I wanted to show this world through the eyes of a young girl,” Huezo says, “to talk about what it means to be a woman in a violent context. I was interested in speaking from a different place about the violence that permeates the life of the whole country and what it means for children. Huezo is part of a new and rising generation of Mexican female directors, including Lila Avilés (recent The maid), Diana Cardozo, Yolanda Cruz and Ángeles Cruz (unrelated), including the triptych on indigenous women, Nudo Mixteco, recently performed at the London Film Festival.

All these films bear witness to the solid health of a diversified and risky auteur cinema. Huezo producer Nicolás Celis, who also produced the acclaimed Alfonso Cuáron film Rome – estimates that around 200 films were shot in Mexico last year, compared to 30 or 40 when it debuted in the industry in 2005. And these films flourish in difficult times, under the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO, as he is known) – a nominally leftist, populist politician who massively cuts Mexico’s cultural budget. The irony, Huezo notes, is that Mexican filmmakers continue to benefit from state funding to make films that refuse to flatter the country’s status quo. “Cinema in Mexico has always been opposed, critical of the reality we live in – and luckily that doesn’t change under AMLO. There is no censorship.

Roma, the award-winning Netflix film by Alfonso Cuarón in 2019 © AP

It’s the same reason why Ruizpalacios, who recently worked in the US on a new Amazon TV series, isn’t tempted to move to Hollywood. “For me, nothing compares to filming in Mexico – it’s just the level of freedom and respect for the author’s vision. In Mexico, all directors have a final cut, that’s not even a problem. For Celis, this freedom doesn’t just pay off artistically: “You don’t have to make as many concessions to make money as you do in other countries, you can talk whatever you want. We try to make films that can really make a difference.

‘A Cop Movie’ is now in theaters across the US and select UK theaters from October 29, and then on Netflix globally from November 5. ‘Prayers For the Stolen’ is on Netflix US from November 17th and MUBI UK in 2022

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