Dog Days: As the Creator of Amores Perros Premieres His Latest Film at the Cannes Festival, Jason Wood Argues That Mexican Cinema Has Finally Hit the Big Time

By Wood, Jason | New Statesman (1996), May 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Dog Days: As the Creator of Amores Perros Premieres His Latest Film at the Cannes Festival, Jason Wood Argues That Mexican Cinema Has Finally Hit the Big Time


Wood, Jason, New Statesman (1996)


When Babel, the latest offering from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival this month, it will be a remarkable moment for Mexican cinema. Before 2000, when the director's debut, Amores Perros, took Cannes by storm, Mexican films were rarely seen by international audiences. This year, one of Babel's main competitors for the Palme d'Or will be Pan's Labyrinth, by Gonzalez Inarritu's compatriot Guillermo del Toro. That two Mexican films are competing for the most prestigious prize in world cinema is a measure of how far the Mexican industry has come in the past six years.

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Amores Perros had a seismic impact in its homeland. A structurally and aesthetically audacious film, woven from three separate stories and spanning the social strata of Mexico City, it was nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and eventually accumulated more than 30 international awards.

The film appeared at a time when homegrown cinema in Mexico was struggling to establish itself in the face of the Hollywood imports that dominated the country's multiplexes. However, it would be a mistake to think that Amores Perros emerged from a vacuum. Mexico has a long and proud history of film production dating back to the end of the 19th century, when the nation was prosperous and politically stable. The projectors and pioneering films produced by the Lumiere brothers in the 1890s were available in Mexico only a few years after they became popular in Europe.

One early innovator was an engineering student called Salvador Toscano Barragan, who opened Mexico's first film salon and produced several silent movies, or "entertainments", depicting momentous events such as the opening of railway lines and presidential excursions. By 1900, cinema was well established within Mexico as a popular art form, and in 1907 Felipe de Jesus Haro produced the country's first major feature film, El Grito de Dolores. But as Hollywood became the dominant force in cinema during the 1920s, audiences began to turn away from locally produced films in favour of big-budget imports. Mexican stars such as Delores del Rio and Lupita Tovar emigrated to the United States.

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has firmly rejected this tendency. When Amores Perros first hit the screen, the director was explicit about his desire to address issues relating to Mexican identity, explaining: "We want to see ourselves reflected . …

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