Three Amigos' impact on Mexican movie biz more than screen deep

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One can't say enough about the impact Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron have had on contemporary Mexican film. Not only have they gained wide international acclaim as directors, but they also have made important contributions as producers.

Longtime friends and collaborators, the so-called "Three Amigos" are no strangers to the Croisette. Del Toro's classic horror flick "Chronos" won the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes in 2003. Three years later, his dark fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" competed for the Palme d'Or and received a 20-minute standing ovation. That same year, Cuaron contributed a segment to the Cannes screening of "Paris, I Love You."

Gonzalez Inarritu, who has won awards at previous editions of Cannes for his freshman feature "Amores Perros" and the international ensemble drama "Babel," is returning to the film festival this year In Competition with his latest work "Biutiful," starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

"Biutiful" is Gonzalez Inarritu's first feature-length film without the collaboration of Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. After nearly a decade of working together on their renowned death-themed trilogy ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel"), Gonzalez Inarritu and Arriaga severed their partnership after a much-publicized falling out over credits.

Nevertheless, their work has left a lasting impression. Arriaga sensed that "Amores Perros" was going to be a major breakthrough, even before filming began.

"I remember giving the script to Rafael Azcona, a very important writer who worked with Carlos Saura and Marco Ferreri, and he invited me to his house after he had read it," Arriaga recalls. "He told me, 'I just read "Amores Perros" and you should prepare yourself for what's about to come. This is going to have a huge impact on film.' "

It certainly did.

One year later, del Toro was making international headlines with his ghost story "The Devil's Backbone," and shortly thereafter it was Cuaron's turn to shine with his road movie "And Your Mother Too."

The crowning moment for the trio came in 2006 when Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," del Toro's "Labyrinth," and Cuaron's "Children of Men" racked up a total of 16 Academy Award noms, resulting in four Oscars.

Separately, the Mexican triumvirate has played a crucial role in backing up-and-coming filmmakers from Mexico and abroad. Del Toro produced the Mexico-Colombia-Spain co-production "Rabia" (Fury) and the Mexico-Spain collaboration "The Orphanage." Cuaron helped filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke land a U.S. distribution deal for his feature debut, "Duck Season." Gonzalez Inarritu executive produced the first film of Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, who has emerged as one of Mexico's most promising young helmers with his documentary-style drama "To the Sea."

Film critic Carlos Bonfil says the three directors have paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers.

"They broke with the scheme of portraying a picturesque Mexico, like you would see in films such as 'Like Water for Chocolate,'" he says. "Now we're seeing young filmmakers with more freedom to explore their own themes, and we're seeing more diversity as a result."

-- Jonathan Hecht
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