Thursday, September 16, 2010

Modern Maestros: Alfonso Cuarón

Maestro: Alfonso Cuarón
Known For: long takes, intellectual films that are sensuous and sensual.
Influences: American Noir, French New Wave, Orson Welles (it's always Orson Welles ain't it?)
Masterpieces: Children of Men
Disasters: none
Better than you remember: you probably love all of his stuff, but it might be time to revisit his good but lesser received films from the 90's.
Box Office: Almost 250 mil for Harry Potter but you knew that.
Favorite Actor: Not a lot of recurring actors, and by not a lot I mean, not any. Do you know of any? I don't.

Orson Welles often said that sustaining a take was how one separated the boys from the men. And through cinematic history the long shot has been employed as a tool of artistic showmanship in films renowned for their languorous and contemplative pacing. While I love almost all of them, I have a special kind of admiration for Alfonso Cuarón, whose film making technique utilizes uninterrupted takes in ways that are exciting, tense and filled with life. They are, unlike many artistic long shots, easy to miss at first since they don't draw attention to themselves as a device, but instead blend organically into the aesthetic of the film. The obvious choice for an example is the car chase scene in Children of Men. Cuarón's camera swirls around the car filled with our heroes (in a rig specially designed for the shot) providing an unflinching experience of growing tension. Certainly the scene could have been a series of fast-paced, chopped cuts. But while that may have increased adrenaline (not that the scene needed any more) we, the viewers would have lost our place in that car.

Just as a bloody shootout is the best example of Cuarón's style, it is a conflicted example of his themes. As Cuarón said when interviewed for the Oscars in 2006, "I believe in hope, but not a hoola, hoola, hope!" So car chases, and bleak futures are a necessity, but in Cuarón films there is always the slightest yet most powerful glimmer of hope where none seems likely. In a high concept just-barely pre-apocalyptic future there's just enough humanity left to sustain life. In a simple tale of hormone addled adolescents driving through a country filled with unrest toward a future of expected mediocrity there is the potential of love in unanticipated places. Even in Hogwarts wizard school where triumph over evil seems like a foregone conclusion, Cuarón brings a sense of naturalistic darkness which makes that triumph more rewarding than ever.

Anyone highly anticipating how Alfonso Cuarón's next film will increase his ever growing status in the film community will have a long wait ahead of them. Gravity isn't expected out until 2012. The film will keep Cuarón in the realm of science fiction as it follows an astronauts attempts to return to earth and her daughter. Those of us expecting it with bated anticipation, are prepared for more stylistic audaciousness that beckons our emotional commitment and promises the hope of something slightly greater than the reality we know.

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