The Three Amigos — nickname for the trio of Mexican Oscar-winning directors Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón — sat down for a rare 90-minute chat at the Academy Museum on Friday night, where the longtime friends bantered and dove into each other’s recent films.
Iñárritu (with Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) and del Toro (with Pinocchio) are both in the awards race this year for their Netflix projects; Cuarón served as moderator for the conversation following an introduction by Ted Sarandos.
“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 noted at the top of the night. “We make movies that reflect our lives [of] where we were in the beginning, and I think it will be really beautiful to talk about where we were back 16 years ago. It was a really interesting time, we were breaking some ground in some way.” It was in 2007 that del Toro was Oscar-nominated for Pan’s Labyrinth, the same year Iñárritu was nominated for Babel and Cuarón for Children of Men.
“I was on my first marriage and my New Year’s commitment was to lose 20 pounds — I gained 200 pounds and I’m on my second marriage,” del Toro joked. “So it’s extremely important to say, what did happen in those 16 years?” Iñárritu revealed how during the Babel awards run, “I knew that it was a good moment to end something that I have, in a way, explored to the end of what I could explore… It was a paradox moment, in a way, that the film got attention and nominations, but deep inside me, I knew that it was the end of the story.”
After a clip showing highlights from Iñárritu’s films, Cuarón commented on his frequent exploration of figurative and literal death, which Iñárritu said “comes from a very, very primal fear and consciousness that we all share that is that no matter which race, nationality or whatever political belief, we all will die,” with his movies a way to imagine his own death in a more profound way.
He also admitted to difficulty in watching scenes from his past films, saying “emotionally they have some intensity that sometimes I don’t recognize,” to which del Toro quickly cut in, “I recognize that intensity. Everything he says is intense.” This led Iñárritu to jokingly scream, “Shut up!”
“When he says about making guacamole, he says, ‘And then you take the avocado, and you slice it! And then the lemon gives you its life! And then you chop the onions, and avocado is born!’” del Toro teased, as Iñárritu shot back, “And before I finished the avocado, he ate it — that’s why I’m so intense about it.”
The jokes continued when del Toro explained how after both The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, he thought they were the last movies he’d make due to putting so much into them.
“You say that all the time: ‘I’m going to do only one more and that’s it,’ and suddenly, oh, you’re prepping another one,” said Cuarón, as Iñárritu added, “Guillermo all the the time said that this is the last, and today he was telling me already about three projects. I told you something that made me laugh because it’s like Mexicans, we say ‘OK, the last drink, the last drink.’ When your friend sat down, you know he’s two bottles next.”
Following his career highlight reel, del Toro explained that he sees two themes throughout his body of work: “One of them 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 inalienable right to be fucked up, to be imperfect, which I defend.” He explained that like Iñárritu, he’s been fixated on death his entire life, even calling himself “a death groupie.”
“It’s like everybody waits for David Bowie to come to town, and I’m waiting for death,” del Toro added, saying, “It makes life makes sense, I really believe that.” He remembered that Cuarón had once told him he’s very Catholic because every character in his movies dies to be happy, and commented on his fascination with monsters: “I completely identify as them… I saw Frankenstein, I said that’s that’s my Jesus right there; that’s what I believe in, that’s my saint.”
Bringing the conversation around to Bardo — which follows a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who returns home — Iñárritu said it was a very introspective, personal project, and one he would not have been ready to make five or 10 years ago.
“This film is the snorkeling — other films, I always put people in the dark, in the diving kind of thing and I was pressuring a lot,” he explained. “I think in this film, I wanted to be snorkeling, that you can be snorkeling and see the depth but from the light and from the safety net, from the water and see the sun and then the grace and then the dark, but from that perspective, that’s the way I think life is. We can navigate through pain but I think always there is light.” Del Toro pointed out the similarities between Bardo and Pinocchio, which both reflect on being fathers and sons, adding that was a main priority of his retelling of the classic tale.
“This is the only Pinocchio movie I know that the one learning is Geppetto,” he said. “It’s not Pinocchio learning to be a real boy, but Geppetto learning to be a real father. And that was very important for me.”
After repeatedly trying — and failing — to redirect the chat so that Cuarón would dive into his own career (“Did I not get the memo, ‘Three Amigos’ and this fucker hasn’t said anything”), del Toro also spoke about the current state of animation, saying, “It is incredibly, incredibly installed in the minds of a lot of people that are in the movie business that animation is a genre for kids and is not, as a medium, for creation of beauty and film and art. I think it’s a battle that will take years, but when you see things like that are as perfect as any Miyazaki movie or The Red Turtle, which is an absolute masterpiece, or I Lost My Body, and you know that this medium is not being used in all its potential.”
The filmmaker reflected on how his Pinocchio idea was rejected by every studio for 10 years, joking he was a bad salesman with the pitch: “I’m not making a movie for kids, but kids can watch it.”
Iñárritu said he experienced the same level of rejection for two years in trying to make Bardo, explaining he “went to the usual suspects and you think that because you have some awards and some Oscars, you will get the green light — the bad news is that that doesn’t exist.” Del Toro chimed in, “For your pleasure, this morning one of my movies was turned down. It never stopped.”
To close out the event — which del Toro renamed “Two Amigos” after Cuarón’s insistence on keeping the focus on his friends — the Pinocchio director told his fellow filmmakers, “I admire the fuck out of you, both of you. When they say, ‘Well, what is this about?’ I think it’s about love, because I love you, and it’s about admiration, because I admire you. You inspire me every year of my life. We’ve been together professionally since the beginning of our careers and you have always inspired me, and you’ve always been a companion, a teacher and a brother.”
Iñárritu extended particular appreciation to Cuarón for his help and advice early in his career, who “since then, generally, generously, has been basically the patron and for me, the blessing in my life as a filmmaker in such a privileged job that we have, but so tough and sometimes so lonely to walk this path.” He continued, “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.”
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