Mexico’s cinema powerhouse: The three amigos who are sweeping the Oscars

Award-winning Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón have been close friends for decades

Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro.
Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro.CUARTOSCURO

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who picked up four Oscars this Sunday for his film The Shape of Water, belongs to one of the most talented trios of the so-called new golden age of Mexican cinema. Colleagues and friends, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Del Toro are not only from the same generation (the “Three Amigos,” as they are called in Hollywood, were all born in the 1960s), they also all got their start with Cha cha cha films, a production company they founded together in 2007. Although the company no longer exists, it spearheaded some of Mexico’s most iconic films.

There’s no film I make that doesn’t get run past them Alfonso Cuarón

With the Best Director award for The Shape of Water, Del Toro has entered the history books. The victory marks the fourth time that a Mexican director has won the prize in the last five years. Cuáron was awarded the Oscar in 2013 for Gravity, and Iñárritu in 2014 for Birdman and in 2015 for The Revenant. Over the course of their spectacular cinematic careers, the friends have swept up a total of 25 Oscars.

The image from the Cannes Film Festival last year of mariachis celebrating with Mexican film stars Salma Hayek, Alfonso Cuarón, Gael García Bernal, Emmanuel Lubezki and Del Toro is likely to make the rounds again after the triumph of yet another Mexican director and in celebration of a long friendship that began in the 1980s. The friendship between the Jalisco-born director and his two older mates from Mexico City started on the set of La Hora Marcada, a Mexican version television series by Televisa styled after the famous Twilight Zone. Del Toro was director’s assistant and Cuarón worked on special effects. The two wrote and directed the stories with the help of Emmanuel Lubezki – known as El Chivo, or the goat – another close friend and the only cinematographer to win three consecutive Oscars. He was later introduced to Iñárritu, who was working in radio.

From that moment on they were inseparable, despite Hollywood fame and the distance between them: Cuarón lives in London, Iñárritu and Del Toro in Los Angeles, although Del Toro likes to tell the press that he would live “wherever the currency exchange takes me.” His family left Mexico permanently in 1998 after his father, a car businessman, was kidnapped for 72 days. It’s said another close friend, director James Cameron, was prepared to give him a million dollars to pay the ransom.

The Mexican friends have won the Oscar for Best Director four times in the last five years

Del Toro grew up in Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s biggest cities, in a normal, upper-middle class family but was never ostentatious and had few luxuries (his colleagues from the Science Institute remember he wore plain white Dunlops when Nike and Adidas sports shoes were in fashion). White, chubby, kind and very popular with his fellow students, Del Toro loved tales by writer H.P. Lovecraft, the ghost stories of his grandmother’s mansion (a woman who was a big influence on the young director – she performed two exorcisms on him), and his mother’s passion for tarot cards and strange pets (crows, white rats). These unusual tastes gave Del Toro’s works a touch of darkness but as a person he was always cheerful. “Our group relied on his engine of laughter and jokes,” his friend Javier Cañedo told Mexican newspaper La Reforma. “In the fourth semester of prep school, more women joined the class and he and I began to woo them, so much so that it was called ‘the class of lust’. Both of us married former classmates from school, he to Lorenza Newton.”

The films of the three friends have little in common, although each has a very recognizable style and work on a mix of big productions and more intimate films. Del Toro’s movies look at monsters and horror fairy tales (with the exception of The Shape of Water), Iñárritu works on dramas, and Cuarón on reinventing genre clichés. The three constantly seek each other’s advice, they appear in the credits of each other’s films and are their harshest critics. “I tell them if what I see is trash,” says Del Toro. “That’s what friends do.” “Guillermo is the master of curses,” says Iñárritu. “There’s no film I make that doesn’t get run past them, by their eyes and hands,” says Cuarón.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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