Thursday, September 16, 2010

Modern Maestros: Alfonso Cuarón

Maestro: Alfonso Cuarón
Known For: long takes, intellectual films that are sensuous and sensual.
Influences: American Noir, French New Wave, Orson Welles (it's always Orson Welles ain't it?)
Masterpieces: Children of Men
Disasters: none
Better than you remember: you probably love all of his stuff, but it might be time to revisit his good but lesser received films from the 90's.
Box Office: Almost 250 mil for Harry Potter but you knew that.
Favorite Actor: Not a lot of recurring actors, and by not a lot I mean, not any. Do you know of any? I don't.

Orson Welles often said that sustaining a take was how one separated the boys from the men. And through cinematic history the long shot has been employed as a tool of artistic showmanship in films renowned for their languorous and contemplative pacing. While I love almost all of them, I have a special kind of admiration for Alfonso Cuarón, whose film making technique utilizes uninterrupted takes in ways that are exciting, tense and filled with life. They are, unlike many artistic long shots, easy to miss at first since they don't draw attention to themselves as a device, but instead blend organically into the aesthetic of the film. The obvious choice for an example is the car chase scene in Children of Men. Cuarón's camera swirls around the car filled with our heroes (in a rig specially designed for the shot) providing an unflinching experience of growing tension. Certainly the scene could have been a series of fast-paced, chopped cuts. But while that may have increased adrenaline (not that the scene needed any more) we, the viewers would have lost our place in that car.

Just as a bloody shootout is the best example of Cuarón's style, it is a conflicted example of his themes. As Cuarón said when interviewed for the Oscars in 2006, "I believe in hope, but not a hoola, hoola, hope!" So car chases, and bleak futures are a necessity, but in Cuarón films there is always the slightest yet most powerful glimmer of hope where none seems likely. In a high concept just-barely pre-apocalyptic future there's just enough humanity left to sustain life. In a simple tale of hormone addled adolescents driving through a country filled with unrest toward a future of expected mediocrity there is the potential of love in unanticipated places. Even in Hogwarts wizard school where triumph over evil seems like a foregone conclusion, Cuarón brings a sense of naturalistic darkness which makes that triumph more rewarding than ever.

Anyone highly anticipating how Alfonso Cuarón's next film will increase his ever growing status in the film community will have a long wait ahead of them. Gravity isn't expected out until 2012. The film will keep Cuarón in the realm of science fiction as it follows an astronauts attempts to return to earth and her daughter. Those of us expecting it with bated anticipation, are prepared for more stylistic audaciousness that beckons our emotional commitment and promises the hope of something slightly greater than the reality we know.


rubi-kun said...

Oh, Cuaron's most recent directorial credit is a horrific disaster. It's just not a feature film:,8599,1935959,00.html

Sean D said...

Pam Ferris is in both Children of Men and Harry Potter 3! I always find that interesting. She's really, really good in Children of Men. That monologue about her dwindling babies to care for as a Nurse gets me every time.

Sean D said...

I'm shocked and disturbed that 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' isn't considered a masterpiece. In my opinion, it's the best film of its decade.

Ángel Ramos said...

Favorite Actor: Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho is the lead in Cuaron's Solo con tu Pareja and the voice over in Y Tu Mamá También.

Simon said...

What of the long take during the climatic 'cease fire' scene in Children of Men? That, I think, was just as impressive as the car chase, because it managed to convey every theme, emotion, and the transition from chaos to pure, unadulterated peace. Or whatever.

And I think Pam Ferris is his reaccuring character, according to the Oracle.

Right. Haven't seen Y Tu Mama Tambien, for some reason to do with Netflix troubles. I'm such a bad fangirl.

Dean said...

Why must my favorite curent directors be so masochistic with the delays between their films? (PT Anderson, Todd Field, and Alfonso Cuaron)

Tallsonofagun said...

Sean D is correct. Really? 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' doesn't count as a masterpiece? That film set a standard for rites of passage films, roadtrip movies and queer cinema all at once. Along with the fact that it really is the film that burst Cuarón into international recognition and is one of the higher grossing foreign films ever released in The States. I usually agree with you on a lot of things Nathaniel, but I can't imagine why this movie isn't considered a masterpiece by you (although it really does only have one lead actress in it, so I guess that makes sense here). BTW, that was just a cheeky sarcastic joke. I usually prefer actressing too.

Guy Lodge said...

Nice piece. I must side with Sean D and Tallsonofagun in thinking Y tu mamá también more of a keeper than the very, very fine Children of Men, but therein lies the fun of such discussions.

I'd love to read a good defence someday of his Great Expectations, which I think is a terribly neglected work ripe for reappraisal.

Andrew R. said...

I think Cuaron's made two masterpieces-Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien-and one almost masterpiece-Harry Potter.

He's better than Gonzalez Inarritu (granted, he's only made 3 films) but not as good as Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth alone makes Del Toro better).

His other three films are meh. Solo con tu Pareja-I haven't seen it. Two friends have, though. One thought it translated well despite being a foreign satire, the other hated it.

Little Princess is nice, but not great.

Great Expectations-It has Ethan Hawke, but it's decent.

Amanda said...

He made two of the best movies of the past decade: Y tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men, which was by far the best movie of its year and one of the five best movies of the last ten years.

I still dont get how Children of Men was snubbed.

Burning Reels said...

I second...well ninth or something the Y Tu Mama Tambien love.

The Gravity direction pleases me - I just hope he gets to make the film how he wants to.

Bia said...

I guess it's unpopular to say, but A Little Princess comes close to a masterpiece - one of the best children's films ever done. Much better than that crap Disney puts out, the lead actress was absolutely brilliant as well.

Also love great elegant.