Mexican Directors Give Commentary, not Blockbuster

Mexico's top three filmmakers have had successful careers in Hollywood, but Bob Mondello says that their latest works Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men and Babel are more social commentaries than Hollywood blockbusters.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Three top Mexican filmmakers have released new movies this season. The directors are close friends and call their work sister films. "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Children of Men" opened this week. "Babel" opened in late October.

NPR's Bob Mondello joins me now to talk about these three films and the directors who made them.

Welcome, as always.

BOB MONDELLO: It's good to be here.

ELLIOTT: Talk to me a little bit about the ties between these three filmmakers.

MONDELLO: Well, they're really good friends. And apparently, they all get together and they critique each other's films. And they say no, no, no, you should have done that differently, and geez, why didn't you go there? And it was only during the process of doing that for these pictures that they realized that they were all releasing political movies that dealt with global issues, all at the same time, and that they were all going to be big-deal movies. These were, you know, big budget, some of them have enormous stars in them, Brad Pitt and, you know, what a remarkable thing.

ELLIOTT: So tell me about these filmmakers as individuals.

MONDELLO: Okay. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the guy who made "Babel," originally made "Amores Perros" and also "21 Grams." Those are three-part pictures that were pretty complicated. This is a four-part picture about man's inability to communicate, and it communicates it absolutely brilliantly.

Then there is Alfonso Cuaron. He made "Y Tu Mama Tambien," which was a kind of interesting road picture in Mexico. And then was hired to do "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." And that was an enormous hit. And so now he has made "Children of Men," which is a picture about how in the future, women are no longer giving birth. And so mankind has no hope, and the only place that is still governed by the rule of law is Britain, and it is horrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CHILDREN OF MEN")

MICHAEL CAINE: (As Jasper Palmer) Illegal immigrants, taking them to (unintelligible) after escaping the worst atrocities and finally making it to England, our government hunts them down like cockroaches.

MONDELLO: That is "Children of Men" and it's a really, really, interesting dystopia.

And then there is Guillermo del Toro. He is a horror director who made things like "Cronos" and "Hellboy" and "Blade II." And he has made a picture that now links politics with the nightmares of a little girl who is involved in the aftermath of the Spanish Revolution. And the picture is called "Pan's Labyrinth." And I would play a clip, but the clips are so visual that they don't really work for radio. He has made this incredible, gorgeous thing about her fantasies and how she uses those fantasies to escape from her brutal stepfather, who is one of Franco's guys.

So those are the three pictures, and it's pretty amazing.

ELLIOTT: Now, these sound like completely different subject matters, all three of these films. Why do we call them sister films?

MONDELLO: Well, because they're all political. If you take "Pan's Labyrinth" being in the past, about politics in Spain, okay; and you take "Babel" as being in the present, about world politics; and you take the "Children of Men" as being about the future and all that, that's what these things have in common. They are all kind of dystopian. They look at the rough side of life.

ELLIOTT: How do you place these three Mexican directors in the broader film world?

MONDELLO: Well, I think what they're doing is really remarkable. If you think about what would happen if a U.S. director had a big hit like "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," he would then be asked to do other hits like it. So he might do the next one, and the next one. I mean, think about what George Lucas did with his films. He made six pictures that were all about "Star Wars."

The impulse is to do more commercial stuff, and what these guys have done is they've taken the capital that they have built up in Hollywood and they're using it to make these important pictures as opposed to just popular ones. And what's wonderful is that the three of them make amazing movies, so that they are likely to be popular anyway. So it's very nice.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Bob Mondello. Thank you.

MONDELLO: It's a pleasure.

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