- Netflix hosted a special evening celebrating Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón, aka “The Three Amigos.”
- The three iconic filmmakers came together for a conversation reflecting on decades of friendship, partnership, exploring identity through cinema, and their latest films, del Toro’s “Pinocchio” and Iñárritu’s “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”
- “For the three of us, one thing we have in common is that we don’t have a difference between filmography and biography,” del Toro said. “We make movies that reflect our lives, where we were in the beginning.”
READ MORE: The Three Amigos discuss the tyranny of nice, rejection as stimulant, and of course, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths. (Netflix Queue)
An openness about death as a fact of life is a characteristic of Mexican culture and one that the country’s celebrated directors share in their movies.
Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón discussed death, metaphorical and literal, as a theme in their work during recent roundtable conversations that also touched on their friendship, filmmaking as biography and the politics of streaming.
“Sometimes it’s a literal death or the closeness to that death that in most cases is combined with the end of the journey of a character,” said Cuarón in an extensive roundtable discussion hosted by Netflix. “Where do you think that comes from?” he asked his compatriots.
“It comes from a very primal fear and consciousness that we all share,” Iñárritu responds. “No matter what race, nationality, or political belief, we all will die. Ever since I was a kid, I was always thinking, we all will be gone. For me, [it’s important] to have the opportunity to imagine your own death, and to imagine how you can make it not morbid but a little bit profound… that is, when we confront weakness or fragility, is when our biggest character [traits] or flaws come out.”
del Toro admits to thinking about dying since he was seven. “I’ve been a death groupie because I think it makes life make sense,” he said, adding that he values the “absolute inalienable right to be fucked up, to be imperfect… Imperfection is one of the most beautiful things. And that’s why I think those themes are very well represented in the [idea of the] monster, or in the fear of death.”
The directors are among the most lauded in current cinema. Between 2013 and 2018, Cuarón, del Toro and Iñárritu have taken home five of the six Best Director Oscars and two Best Picture trophies between them for a run of work that according to Deadline firmly established them in the pantheon of cinema history.
With Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant, The Shape of Water and Roma, they have delivered their unique visions of cinema with the world. To which you can add this awards season, Iñárritu’s Bardo and del Toro’s Pinocchio which are both directly and indirectly biographical.
For Iñárritu, the death of his second son and near death of his third born were profound life-and-death situations. Bardo, he says, “is an allegory of my own life, a fictional way for me to liberate a lot of things — shame, pain, doubt, fear. That’s why movies exist for me. It’s a cathartic thing.”
del Toro shares that Pinocchio stemmed from the same deeply emotional place, in his case about fatherhood and being a son.
“To me, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever written is the final line, ‘What happens, happens, and then we’re gone.’ It’s the essence of the one thing I’ve learned in 58 years — this little time we have for each other that is important. I lost my dad after The Shape of Water and my mom right before Pinocchio opened, and I was able to see them as people, as neither saints nor devils. When I came up with the idea of Pinocchiohaving a dialogue with Death, that was when the movie appeared for me. I thought, ‘It’s about that.’ ”
In thinking about Roma, Pinocchio and Bardo, del Toro notes that one of them is pure biography, one is a classic children’s fairy tale, and the other is obliquely a biography, but they all are joined in similar ways.
“Different approaches, but ultimately the way we have deepened in our own biography within film is very similar,” he says, adding, “The first part of our career was how to handle the language of cinema. The latter part of our career is when the language of cinema and who we are start making contact.”
Cuarón,speaking to Deadline, describes this trio of movies as simply, “symbolic biographies.”
READ MORE: Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo Del Toro & Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The “Three Amigos”, Take Us On An Odyssey Through Their History And The Future Of Cinema (Deadline)
There’s a lot of mutual respect, shared history and friendship among the group who have been dubbed “the Three Amigos.” Iñárritu says that he doesn’t have the same depth of relationship with other directors that he has with his Mexican peers.
“With others we] talk about technical things, stuff that is on the surface. But with these two, the benefit is they know very deeply who I am, and what my motivations are, and what triggers me. That deep knowledge of what needs to be said, and of how to say it in a way that is truthful and useful, is a complex mechanic.”
del Toro adds, “We have a dialogue that is very real. It’s helpful to have these two guys to keep me in check, so that I don’t get high on my own supply. We remember, at the end of the day, that we grew up together.”
Iñárritu compares the trio to the triumvirate of Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese, who grew up and made their careers together in the 1970s.
“We do make very different films, and we do come from different approaches, but I’m always in awe of what Guillermo and Alfonso can do that I never could,” he adds. “Like Pinocchio, for Guillermo: I wouldn’t even know where to start making a film like that. To see these incredible puppets and the technology he uses, and how he works with stop motion; there’s something about it I can’t even understand. And yet I admire it and I learn from that.”
Of course, love cinema they may, but each of these directors has now made films funded by Netflix. There is a tension between the epic and cinematic art that they all aspire to and the screening of their films to most audiences on TV screens or laptops.
“I love the experience of going to the cinema, and I go and see films in the theater as often as I can,” Cuarón defends, “but I’m by no means going to say it’s the only way to experience a film. There’s a lot of cinema I’m quite happy to watch on a platform.”
He says he is less concerned about the ways that people are watching cinema, than he is about a “dictatorship of ideas” that is driving production decisions in Hollywood.
“It’s about the movies that are being made to please that media,” he expands, in relation to streaming platforms. “If you watch a Fellini or a Godard movie on your computer, it’s still a great movie. It doesn’t change the power of the idea. But I think the ideas are being reduced to computer size in terms of ideology, and I think everybody is participating in that. The reduction of the idea is what we should discuss, not the possibilities of the medium.”
del Toro agrees, saying that for him, “the size of the idea” is more important than the size of the screen. “Cinema — the marketing and financial side — has always tried to be constrained by rules. Right now, for example, you hear something like, “The algorithm says people need to be hooked in the first five minutes of the film,” but that was true in the ‘70s and ‘80s. That’s always been true. You need to have a strong opening sequence.”
He pushes the conversation wider than streaming versus cinema, espousing that cinema now is “post-COVID, post-Trump, post-truth cinema, and it’s very apocalyptic in a way. It’s always interesting generationally that when you think an artform is dying, what is really dying is the way you understand that artform.”
Iñárritu voiced concern about the impact of social media on young filmmakers, something that his generation did not have to face.
“It can be cruel, and it can be paralyzing. To have the courage to be disliked and to fail at this time is much more difficult than it was before.”
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