No wave José

After the Buena Onda, was there anything left? Yes – lots of talent, as Jason Wood explains in The Faber Book of Mexican Cinema

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The Faber Book of Mexican Cinema
Jason Wood
2006, Faber and Faber
196 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

IN THE AFTERMATH of the audacious and innovative Amores Perros and Y tu mamá también film critics around the world – always so eager to peel fresh fruit – rushed to announce a “new wave” of Mexican cinema.

In Mexico, where they were caught with their pants down, the critics called the commercial success of both movies as La Buena Onda. Crummy, peasant Mexico imprinted in the minds of the world as such for so long had at last become the darling of the global media, dressed up in hip urban packaging.

And all this because, finally, locally made movies reflected both the aspirations of a nation desperate to make the opium dream of being competitive in a global market come true yet also reflected the social circumstances that suggest such dreams turn out to be nightmares.

Although the bubble quickly burst and attention shifted fickly to other forgotten lands in Latin America, this did not mean the end of the Mexican film industry. And none of the latest crop of directors shared the same aesthetic, suggesting the few examples of Mexican cinema that the international public were now able to name were not, in fact, the product of a simple wave at all. The hit Hollywood Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón quotes Claude Chabrol to explain that, in cinema terms, “there is no wave, there is only the ocean”.

Talented film-makers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo Arriaga and Cuarón himself have not emerged spontaneously but are the product of an industry that has had more lows than highs for over a century. The longstanding relationship between Mexico and Hollywood itself has meant that Mexican film technicians are highly trained – yet outside Mexico few people can recognise the merits of directors such as Arturo Ripstein, who has created high-quality movies for over 30 years.

Years of mental starvation due to government control, and even snobbery among some Mexican directors, simply made it inevitable the country would be feverishly ready for clever films Hechos en México that reflected everyday life through characters the film-going public could identify with.

Troubles and glories

Jason Wood’s The Faber Book of Mexican Cinema is a valuable and fluid account of the history, troubles and glories of film-making in Mexico, from its infancy before the Mexican Revolution, based on interviews with well known contemporary directors such as Cuarón, González Iñárritu, del Toro, Carlos Reygadas and writers Arriaga and Martín Salinas who have made it internationally.

Wood also gives recognition to the work of other talented and important professionals hidden due to the constraints of the film industry in Mexico, such as directors Salvador Carrasco, Juan Carlos Rulfo, Carlos Carrera and Hugo Rodríguez, and cinematographers, producers and production designers like Emmanuel Lubezki, Rodrigo Prieto, Francisco González Compeán, Bertha Navarro, Laura Imperiale and Daniel Birman whose names appear in little letters on the screen after most of the public have abandoned their seats. The work of these professionals put the technicalities of some blockbuster movies like Amores Perros, Y tu Mamá también and Cronos into context.

The director of the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica and Alfredo Joskowicz, director of the Mexican Institute of Cine (IMCINE) and himself a film-maker, also give the reader insights into the problems and current situation of production in Mexico.

Wood – a film programmer who has written for the Guardian newspaper and the magazines Sight and Sound and Vertigo and is co-director of the independent film-making company Ion Productions – has compiled a valuable work of record.

He guides the reader effortlessly to the obvious conclusion that Mexican cinema is now what it is because it has finally broken free from the cultural insularity of Lo mexicano – a reflection of propagandistic demands imposed by governments over content or aesthetics – to become the cinema made by mexicanos, wherever they may be.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer