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Mexican directors ready to compete at Cannes

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro both shooting for big prize
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

For the first time, two Mexican directors have pictures in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Yet Mexico’s presence on the Croisette doesn’t stop there, as two newcomers will be looking to prove themselves as well.

In 2000, Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu saw his career take off after his feature film debut “Amores Perros” (Love’s a Bitch) won the top prize at the Critics’ Week sidebar. Tuesday, Gonzalez Inarritu returns to Cannes in the main competition with “Babel,” starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Also in competition is Guillermo del Toro’s “El Laberinto del Fauno” (Pan’s Labyrinth), which screens on Saturday. In 1993, Del Toro won the grand prize at Critics’ Week for his horror film “Cronos.”

The Cannes awards marked a turning point in the careers of both directors, now considered two of Mexico’s most important filmmakers. Del Toro enjoyed success with “Blade II” and “Hellboy.” Gonzalez Inarritu made the critically acclaimed “21 Grams.”

This year, writer-director Gerardo Naranjo would like nothing more than to follow in their footsteps when his film “Drama/Mex” vies for the Critics’ Week prize. “Drama/Mex” screens Tuesday.

Also representing Mexico at Cannes is Francisco Vargas’ first feature “El Violin” (The Violin), which was selected for the Un Certain Regard category and unspools Wednesday.

Proven crossover directors like Del Toro and Gonzalez Inarritu have left the financing and distribution headaches of Mexico behind them. Yet up-and-comers like Naranjo and Vargas don’t enjoy that luxury.

Mexico produced 53 films last year, its highest production output in 15 years. Unfortunately, only 24 pictures had theatrical releases.

Due to the strong presence of Mexican directors at Cannes this year, Vargas says many people assume that Mexico’s film industry is booming.

“On the contrary, it’s not telling of what is actually happening,” he said. “You have two directors working outside of Mexico and two other unknown directors that were crazy enough to do a film. [The industry] is in bad shape.”

Vargas’ “The Violin,” a story about rural musicians who support a guerrilla movement in Mexico, screened in Cannes last year as a short. Because it was well received, Vargas was able to secure financing to extend the short into a full-length film. While distributors in England, Spain and Germany also have shown interest, Vargas has received no offers in Mexico.

As for Naranjo, who studied at the American Film Institute, “Drama/Mex” is his second full-length film. Naranjo describes the three intertwined stories in “Drama/Mex” as “real Mexican drama, not the kind we always see in telenovelas.”

Much like Vargas, Naranjo was having difficulties getting financing to complete his film. But after his picture was selected for Cannes, local producer Canana Films agreed to help with postproduction costs. Canana is owned by Mexican actors Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and producer Pablo Cruz.

Naranjo and Vargas now have the same opportunity that Gonzalez Inarritu and Del Toro had, an opportunity to prove to the world that Mexico’s film industry may have its problems, but it isn’t lacking in talent.