EDITOR’S NOTE: Every day for the next month, indieWIRE will be republishing profiles and interviews from the past ten years (in their original, retro format) with some of the people that have defined independent cinema in the first decade of this century. Today, we’ll step back to 2002 with an interview indieWIRE’s Anthony Kaufman had with Alfonso Cuarón upon the release of his greatly acclaimed Y Tu Mamá También.”
INTERVIEW: Not Another Teen Movie: Alfonso Cuarón on Truth, Style and "Y Tu Mamá También"
(indieWIRE/03.11.02) — Alfonso Cuarón‘s fourth feature “Y Tu Mamá También” is more than just a sexy, teen romp through Mexican high society and remote hinterlands. It’s social commentary, psychological journey, and sure, it’s also a steamy story of two boys bedding an older woman. Based on a story that Cuarón and his brother Carlos wrote more than 10 years ago, the film follows Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), two horny guys who embark on a road trip with the object of their desire, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the wife of one of Tenoch’s older cousins.
Inspired by Frank Zappa, Jean-Luc Godard, bad teen movies, erotica, and
their own experiences in past and present Mexico, the Cuarón brothers’
collaboration is a tour-de-force merging high and low styles. Hilarious and
touching, political and personal, the film won screenwriting and acting
prizes at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, swept the Mexican box office last
year and is poised to be one of 2002’s great foreign film success stories in
the U.S. indieWIRE recently spoke with Cuarón about the film’s unique third
person narration, its freewheeling style, and his close collaboration with
noted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Sleepy Hollow,” “Ali“). IFC Films will release “Y Tu Mamá También” this Friday.
indieWIRE: How did you establish the film’s objective point of view?
Alfonso Cuarón: I set out with Carlos to do something very objective. I
said, “We need a narrator, a third-person narrator.” And he said, “No it
won’t work; we need a first person narrator.” Then I showed him “Masculin,
Feminin,” and the first time that Godard uses the third-person narrator, he
was like, “Okay, play no more, I get it.”
iW: Can you talk about those documentary-like moments, where the camera roves away from the story onto other details?
Cuarón: Yeah, that was in the script. There was this idea that the camera
was going to be seeking out little observations, almost in a documentary
style. There’s an action going on here, but the camera has its own comments.
For us, it was so liberating. Four years ago, we would have thought it was
horrible. We were framing shots and I was like, “Emmanuel, how does it
look?” And he would say, “It looks like shit.” And I was like, “What’s
wrong?” And he’d be like, “No, let’s shoot it. It looks like shit; it’s
great!” And that was the philosophy.
iW: But it doesn’t really look like shit.
Cuarón: Yeah, but it’s not a postcard. It was about decomposing, as opposed to composing the shot. It was about making it look improvised. One of the
reasons why I wanted to do this film was because I wanted to go back to my
roots, and I’m not talking about Mexico, but my creative roots: to make a
film that we would have loved to do before going to film school, when you
don’t know how to shoot a movie or compose a shot. It was going to be a film
school teacher’s nightmare. It was not about breaking the rules, but about
not knowing the rules ever existed.
iW: The film actually looks very good, though. It’s not some gritty handheld look; it’s very beautiful.
Cuarón: That’s Emmanuel [Lubezki]. He and I have a long relationship. He’s not just my DP; he’s one of the most important collaborators. Emmanuel is not a director of photography who puts up lights and sets up frames; he’s
involved in narrative. For as long as I was writing the script, I was
talking about it with him. After we finished “Great Expectations,” we were
sick of searching for a style. We felt we were hitting dead ends everywhere
and everything was feeling baroque. And we were saying, next film, we have
to do something objective. Because we were doing subjective films where you
experience everything from the point of view of the main character. And when
we were writing, we were always thinking in those terms. When we started in
pre-production, we decided we wanted to do it handheld, mostly because of
the freedom that it would give to us and the actors. But at the same time,
we didn’t want to do this TV thing, where the camera is moving like crazy.
We started to think about everything being quite posed, watching everything
from a distance.
iW: Was shooting in sequence helpful?
Cuarón: Yes, definitely. Here, it was a luxury. The map of our shooting was
based on the map of the road trip in the film. There were two amazing
factors: Gael and Diego have known each other since they were kids and they
didn’t know Maribel [Verdú]. There were only two rehearsals with the three
of them. We were supposed to have more, but I didn’t want the ice to be
broken. So they used that as a tool. So as the ice melts between the
characters, it was happening in real life, in the same way that Maribel was
feeling more comfortable in Mexico, the character of Louisa is feeling more
comfortable in Mexico. The only thing we shot out of continuity was the very
last scene in the coffee shop, because we wanted to get it out of the way;
otherwise, the actors would have been self-conscious working for that
climax. So they were performing in the moment, not the grand finale.
iW: Was going back to Mexico powerful for you personally as well as a filmmaker?
Cuarón: It was the first time I spent such a long time in Mexico in maybe 10
years. It was amazing. I hadn’t gone on a road trip there in a long time. So
looking for locations was rediscovering Mexico, which in many ways hasn’t
changed. For me, it was a reclamation of Mexico. A lot of the vignettes we
had in the film were things we experienced looking for locations.
iW: Do you feel like you’ve made something more special, more significant with “Y Tu Mamá” than what you’ve done with your previous films?
Cuarón: There’s not much I can say, because I have a very subjective
experience with my movies. I experience them and after I finish a movie, I
never see them again. I haven’t seen any of my films since the last day at
the lab. For me, it’s about what I have learned for the next movie. From my
standpoint, “Y Tu Mamá” may be my best movie, or my least bad movie. But
definitely, “A Little Princess” is my most personal film and one thing has
nothing to do with the other.
iW: What did you learn on “Y Tu Mamá” for your next film?
Cuarón: A lot. I learned there’s an amazing unexplored territory in terms of
narrative. Before, I thought the unexplored territory was the form, the way
you shoot a movie. Now, I’m learning about the beautiful marriage between
form and narrative. I used to be very controlling with visuals and editing,
and I would pretty much craft the performances; now I have learned to trust
the material and the actors. On this film, what was so liberating was that
everything was on the shoulders of the actors. That was great.
iW: Are you working on something else now?
Cuarón: A studio film called “Children of Men.” It’s science fiction. Not lasers and stuff, but it’s the world 23 years from now. It’s a world where
for 18 years, no new baby has been born, so humanity is doomed to disappear
in 60 years. The world is falling apart out of hopelessness. But I want to
shoot it like “Battle of Algiers” rather than “Blade Runner,” almost like a
documentary about something that happened back in 2024.