Contemporary films from Mexico That Constitute a 'New Wave' of film.
A Look at 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' and 'El Crimen Del Padre Amaro'
How do Contemporary films from Mexico Constitute a ‘New Wave’ of Cinema?
‘New Wave’ cinema is a movement that rebels against traditional techniques of cinema. The term was coined in France in the 1950’s when a new generation of young filmmakers came forward and concentrated on bringing a sense of realism to cinema. It was a movement that was heavily influenced by both Italian neo-realism and Classical Hollywood cinema. On Location shooting, improvised scripts, natural lighting and the use of handheld cameras are all techniques indicative of the New Wave movement.
Latin American cinema has a long history featuring periods of both commercial and artistic success not only in Latin America but internationally as well. Mexico’s early films portrayed strong Nationalistic themes and by the 1930’s Mexican cinema was heavily influenced by Hollywood. It was this influence that brought about the ‘Golden Age’ that saw a major industry created, producing family melo-drama’s, musicals and action films. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had an impact on Mexican cinema as it controlled ticket prices and closely inspected films almost censoring them. By the end of the 1950’s, Mexican cinema lacked creativity which led to jaded, routine and unrefined cinema. The defeat of the PRI in 2000 ushered in a new era of freedom of expression. There has been a rise in the number of films being made in Mexico since the defeat of the PRI. In 2003 the Mexican film industry produced about 30 films compared to the five produced in 1995 (Scott, 2003).
A new generation of Mexican directors came forward and produced films that abandoned the traditional techniques of narrative film in favour of films with symbolism and themes of social alienation and sexuality. Directors known for their part of this ‘New Wave’ or ‘Nueva Onda’ cinema are Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Carlo’s Carrera (El Crimen Del Padre Amaro). The contemporary films they produced became successful both nationally and internationally because of their fresh plotlines and honest perceptions. Where Hollywood films can be seen as expensive projects for mere entertainment purposes and big profit, the Low budget films of Mexico and Latin America are regarded as some of the most influential, artistic works of the decade. According to Alfonso Cuaron, in Mexico “everyone makes movies for all the right reasons, none of which are to get rich…In Mexico we make cinema because we love it”(Sullivan, 2006). The themes of Mexican ‘New Wave’ films may be challenging, but these new directors present Mexico’s actuality and human nature as realistically as possible.
‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ (Cuaron, 2001) is one such film. Private funding allowed for more freedom of expression and experimentation with unconventional storylines and techniques which in turn helped make one of the most remarkable contemporary Mexican films of the past decade. The film, as a whole, is a mix of many conventional themes such as a ‘coming of age’ film and a road movie. The ‘road movie’ is based on a journey, both physically (trying to find the imaginary beach ‘heavens mouth) and metaphorically (on a journey of discovery and maturity which also comes back to the ‘coming of age’ theme). ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ goes above and beyond the typical road movie or coming of age story however with a voice-over that regularly interrupts the main storyline. These may seem out of place because they are unrelated to the main plot and are never connected to a character in the film but these commentaries provide information about separate characters, events, and the future and characters hidden feelings. The camera perspective here is also important as it seems to wander from the films central story and focus on irrelevant characters or incidents. This technique gives the audience a wider look at what is happening around the boys as they seem completely unaware and ignorant. The social issues raised by those fighting for change through protests and demonstrations are completely ignored by the two self-centred boys who, instead, complain of traffic. As they journey through Mexico, they disregard and look down on the poor (revealed in a voice-over saying that Tenoch lifts the toilet lid with his foot in Julio’s house).
Another social commentary can be seen in the boys themselves. They both share a trait central to Mexican Politics which is shown when they both break the ‘club rules’ showing their true selfish nature. Even the rules that constitute unselfish behaviour are broken by the boys in the same way the Mexican elite break rules for egotistic reasons. By adding stylized visuals, underwater photography and vulnerable close-ups Cuaron gave the film a raw edge that is rarely seen in convention cinema. Cuaron embraces the old-school Hollywood style as well as darker themed modern stories to create a film that is the epitome of ‘New Wave’ cinema in Mexico.
Another contemporary or ‘New Wave’ aspect of the film is its treatment of sex and sexuality. The pragmatic, fearless way in which Cuaron films the sex scenes eliminates any crude aspects of the scene and brings honesty to a subject all too often approached by Hollywood filmmakers with an immature, adolescent attitude. The film contains a homosexual element that develops over the entire film. First the boys masturbate together, then they admit to sleeping with each other’s girlfriends and finally they have sex with each other. The structural formation of these scenes associates the boy’s sexual activities as the displacement of their attraction for each other. While the full frontal nudity and blatant sexual acts may be challenging to some, Mexican cinema fearless in its embrace of sexuality.
‘El Crimen Del Padre Amaro’ (Carrera, 2002) is another Mexican film that embraces sexuality and modern ideals dealing with issues of socio-political corruption, drugs, violence and hypocrisy. The film caused controversy among the Roman Catholic groups in Mexico who attempted (and failed) to stop the screening of the film. Loosely taken from a novel by Eça de Queiros written in 1875 Carrera brings the story into a modern context and highlights issues to which current audiences can connect. The story is made up in two parts. The first concentrates on the dishonesty and hypocrisy of priests as it portrays how Padre – funds a medical clinic with money from drug lords. The second reveals how young Padre Amaro is inspired to do right, yet is continuously challenged by pressures of money, society and celibacy. Amaro is disgusted by the churches exploitation and vows to do right no matter what, yet temptation takes hold and causes a chain of events that lead down a dismal, dark road.
Sexuality is also present in Padre Amaro but mixed with a story of the Catholic Church it becomes a contemporary modern story. Padre Amaro begins a relationship with a young girl, Amelia who in turn becomes pregnant. Amelia time and again challenges Padre Amaro’s beliefs, the most notable example when she confesses to thinking of Jesus while touching herself evoking Amaro’s fear of approaching sex as a spiritual experience.
‘El Crimen del Padre Amaro’ reached international audiences because of the mixture of a Hollywood texture with continuity editing and Mexican ideals and life as it is. Carrera creates a sense of realism of the difference in class systems and lifestyles. He portrays poverty in a rural town that is contrasted by the prosperity of the church. There are many distinct features that can be found in the film, from corruption and the injustice of politics and religious figures to individual struggles and the influences of society providing a contemporary story that establishes a ‘New Wave’ film.
Although Latin America has had a long history of cinema including the ‘Golden Age’, it wasn’t until the fall of the PRI in 2000 that Mexico felt unrestricted enough to address social and political issues in film as well as the freedom to experiment with techniques and taboo subjects. A new generation of directors came forth and created low-budget, vibrant films that are considered masterpieces of Mexican cinema. Latin American films succeed because they have so many real social issues to deal with and according to Alejandro Iňárritu (Babel) it’s “because we have to address these problems, our films will always kick you in the balls”(Sullivan, 2006). ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ constitutes ‘New Wave’ cinema as it abandons tradition narrative techniques in favour of a mix of conventional themes, its unflinching treatment of sexuality and the regular interruptions of the story to address certain socio-economic issues among other things. Similarly, ‘El Crimen del Padre Amaro’ also deals with sexuality, corruption and social and political problems. Although it may be seen as a dated issue, the inclusion of drug lords and guerrilla’s into this web of immorality present the film as contemporary or ‘New Wave’.
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