Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alfonso Cuaron

My love affair with the works of Alfonso Cuaron began with The Little Princess, a film that when I first watched it I had no idea who Alfonso Cuaron was, but I knew the film’s visual style was uniquely beautiful and that I would love to see one of his films again. After A Little Princess I forgot about Cuaron, both because I was only a teen and because he didn’t make a wave in the world of cinema until his Spanish language film Y Tu Mama Tambien which went on to reach international acclaim. Since this film he’s continued his rise in international cinema by being the first director post-Christopher Columbus to be given the reigns to the Harry Potter franchise, and creating the stunning film Children of Men.

When I think of Cuaron’s films what strikes me is how organic they feel. Organic is the perfect word for Cuaron’s style as he is a director who thinks about and fully realizes the world of his characters without neglecting genre, locale or story – the setting and design of his films is one that is completely formed for the characters yet one that you would somehow feel comfortable in and familiar with if you were transported into the world of the film. Cuaron is a director that has a fully realized vision, one that blends fantasy and reality in such a way that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between what exists and what does not. Every one of Cuaron’s films that I have seen takes a unique fantasy element and blends them into our world creating a sense of fantastic realism that I haven’t seen done quite as well by any other director.

Each and every element of fantastic realism to Cuaron’s films is totally different and helps the film ground the story and the characters inexplicably together into one perfect realm. The fantastic element in The Little Princess is the use of Sara’s past in India and Cuaron uses magical realism to pull Sara’s stories & past into her new life. Y Tu Mama Tambien uses an omniscient narrator who will pause the story and tell us the past or future of the characters which we will never see on screen, making each one a little more flawed or tragic than they would otherwise be. Every other film in his repertoire has similar elements that make the film special visually and the characters memorable.

In what are perhaps Cuaron’s most famous films, The Prisoner of Azkaban & Children of Men, Cuaron took his biggest career and creative leaps. Cuaron found a massive audience when he was handed the reins of the Harry Potter franchise and though he only stayed on for one film he gave something to Prisoner of Azkaban that no other film in the franchise had – atmosphere. When you watch Prisoner of Azkaban you can see the marks of Cuaron all over it, flowing shots, long camera moves, and a magical sense of wonder, but it’s a truncated version of Cuaron.

Cuaron’s next film was the best film of 2006 - Children of Men. This is perhaps one of the single most visually beautiful films I’ve ever seen; the camera work, cinematography, color choices, acting and the million nuances of directing all work together to create one of the most thrilling, moving and smart films in my film vocabulary. Cuaron paints this world in a way that makes it utterly real yet fantastic enough to seem like a near future that might one day exist; there are no flying cars, transporters or space ships but there are drugs being distributed by the government, television screens on every corner & religious factions of every kind pamphleting the street. Cuaron’s vision of the future is chilling but believable and one that stays with you long after you leave the theatre.

Alfonso Cuaron is a phenomenal director in every aspect, but the one element that stays with me in all of his films are his visuals. Cuaron is a modern day Hitchcock in terms of his shots; he composes his shots like visual paintings that can flow and move. While this may seem like a fundamental point to someone who likes watching films, it’s an entirely different thing when you’re the one who has to plan and execute the shots. Hitchcock would design lenses for specific shots, Cuaron will design camera tracks, moving car rigs and anything else to make the shot he needs as long and as fluid as he needs it to be.

Cuaron is still finding his audience. He’s still a burgeoning director and with each film his style has come more into focus and his stories more beautiful. Alfonso Cuaron is going to have many more films and many more years ahead of him and I cannot wait to see what he brings next.

Recommened Viewing: Children of Men

“I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?”
~ Theo, Children of Men


Chris W said...

I agree Alfonso Cauron is the man and CHILDREN OF MEN was by far the best film of 2006. That was a pretty great year for movies because you had CHILDREN OF MEN, PAN'S LABYRINTH, CASINO ROYAL, THE PRESTIGE, THE DEPARTED and about a million other awesome titles. Seriously look up the list, I think at least 20 films from that year are part of my DVD collection and should be pretty much required viewing so saying that CHILDREN OF MEN is the best of them all is no faint praise.

Adam said...

Megan, what did you think of Y Tu Mama Tambien? It didn't really connect with me on a gut level.

Anonymous said...

You need to do one on Del Toro now if you haven't already.