The “Three Amigos,” as Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu are often called, united on stage at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday for a Netflix-hosted panel about their lives as Mexico’s three preeminent filmmakers.
The event was ostensibly focused on Iñárritu and del Toro’s Netflix-produced Oscar contenders, “Bardo” and “Pinocchio,” with Cuarón handling moderator duties. (Del Toro had to be constantly reminded that he wasn’t supposed to heap praise on Cuarón, a rule that the “Shape of Water” director was none too happy about). But the three friends quickly turned it into a wide-ranging conversation about their artistry, collaboration, and of course, their eventual deaths.
“One thing we have in common is that we don’t have a difference between filmography and biography,” del Toro said at the beginning of the panel. “We make movies that reflect our lives, where we were in the beginning.”
That topic has certainly been on Iñárritu’s mind as he promotes the most personal film of his career, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.” The sprawling, dreamlike film about a successful filmmaker returning to Mexico after years of working abroad was simultaneously a return to his Mexican roots and a bold artistic departure. While the film is far less linear than Iñárritu’s other recent work, he still views the film as an extension of his career-spanning fascination with death.
“I think it comes from a very primal fear and consciousness we all share,” Iñárritu said. “Which is that no matter which race, nationality, reach, whatever political belief, we all will die… So for me, to have the opportunity to imagine your own death, and to imagine how you can tell that story from that perspective, makes it a little bit more profound. And the meanings and priorities come out a little bit clearer.”
It was a sentiment echoed by del Toro. “I’ve been thinking about dying since I was seven years old,” he said.
When the conversation turned to del Toro’s career, he spoke about the way “Pinocchio” tied his well-documented fascination with monsters into the larger themes that define his career.
“I recognize two,” del Toro said when asked about motifs that reoccur throughout his work. “One of which is the virtue of disobedience, which I think is vital. To be disobedient is to be a thinking person. And I think the other one is the absolute, unalienable right to be fucked up. To be imperfect. I think that imperfection is one of the most beautiful things. And that is why I think those things are very well-represented in the monster.”
Del Toro also opened up about the influence that Catholicism has had on his career. “Pinocchio” features more Catholic imagery than perhaps any film that he has made to date, and the director said that the process of working on the film has led him to stop denying the influence that his childhood religion has had on his artistry.
“I’m a lapsed Catholic, but a Catholic,” he continued. “And a lot of the imagery and the resurrection — Pinocchio is like the Jesus. He’s like Christ, he’s made of wood, he has nails, resurrects three times to save those that he loves… The older I get, the more I accept that things must be festering there that I’m okay with. I grew up with Catholic cosmology, and I love it. I think it’s a mythology that is built into my bones.”
While the conversation featured plenty of good-natured ribbing (Iñárritu’s intensity and del Toro’s constant reneging on his retirement plans were the butt of many jokes), the friends ended the night on a sentimental note. All three men expressed gratitude for being able to share their Hollywood journey with two friends who understood their complex lives better than anyone else.
“The blessing in my life as a filmmaker is such a privileged job that we have, but it’s so tough and sometimes so lonely to walk this path,” an emotional Iñárritu said. “Never lonely in your life, always with two friends that can hold you in failure and can celebrate with you in success. These two guys — without them, I would not exist.”