Alfonso Cuaron

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.0 Children of Men (2006)
6.8 Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuaron (Mexico, 1961) debuted with Solo Con Tu Pareja/ Only with your Partner/ Love in the Time of Hysteria (1991).

After A Little Princess (1995), an adaptation of Frances Hodgson-Burnett's sentimental novel "A Little Princess" (1905), and an adaptation of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1998), Cuaron directed the erotically charged Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) that became a hit.

After an awful movie of the obnoxious Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Cuaron turned to science-fiction with Children of Men (2006), a loose adaptation of the novel "Children of Men" (1992) written by Phyllis-Dorothy James (more famous as a writer of mystery novels). As it is often the case with adaptations, something of the original power is lost in the movie. The Dickens-ian happy ending is a bit ridiculous.

In 2027 the youngest person in the world, an 18-year-old man, has been killed (he was a celebrity and that day he refused to give an autograph), and everybody is crying. The world has had no birth since his because of an epidemics of infertility, which means that humankind is slowly becoming extinct. A man witnesses an explosion, one of the many terrorist attacks that are shaking the world. On the way home his train is attacked by demonstrators throwing stones. The police are rounding up foreigners everywhere: they are illegal immigrants who are escaping from the worldwide civil war. These refugees are either deported or killed. Britain is the one country that has escaped most of the trouble. Theo visits his older friend Jasper (Michael Caine), who lives happily in an isolated cottage, taking care of his catatonic wife. Jasper has found happiness in loneliness, and growing marijuana. When he returns to town, Theo is kidnapped by masked men. They take him to a place where he is confronted by his ex-wife, who is now the leader of this terrorist group that wants to defend the immigrants. Theo and Julian lost their child to a flue pandemic. Julian needs help to smuggle in a young female African refugee named Kee and is willing to pay Theo. Theo visits his cousin Nigel, who is a minister in the government in charge of save art masterpieces from all over the world. They have lunch in a room decorated with Picasso's "Guernica". Nigel gets Theo the papers but the rules require that Theo travels with the girl. Theo asks Julian for more money to do so. They take the girl and a midwife and start driving along a country road. Theo and Julian are making jokes like in the old days when suddenly the car is attacked by a large crowd. Their driver Luke tries to back out but someone shoots and kills Julian. The driver manages to drive away but then has to kill two cops who started chasing the car. They leave the dead Julian in the woods and resume their journey. They stop at a house where fellow activists hide, and Kee undresses in front of Theo to show him her secret: she is pregnant. Julian was planning to send her to the "Human Project", a laboratory on a distant island where scientists are trying to cure infertility. Luke, instead, would like them to tell the public. He convinces her to stay and have her baby in the country. At night, however, he overhears Luke and others talking about Julian's death: they planned it and carried it out, with the goal of taking over the organization and using Kee's baby as a tool to start a revolution. Theo wakes up Kee and the midwife, and they take off at dawn in a stolen car. Theo drives them to Jasper's ranch. Jasper arranges for a boat and then, when the posse enters his property, Jasper stands behind to send the posse in the wrong direction. Theo watches from afar and sees Jasper being brutally killed by Luke. Jasper's friend Syd, a military guard whom Jasper called "a fascist pig", gave them a ride to a refugee camp where they hope to find a "Human Project" ship. Sid tells them to look for a Romanian woman, Marichka. When they arrive at the refugee camp amid scenes of torture, abuses and executions, Kee's birthpangs are beginning. Miriam pretends to be mad in order to distract a suspicious guard and is arrested. Theo walks Kee through the apocalyptic crowd until he finds Marichka, who takes them to a place where Kee can give birth. Theo has to play the midwife when the baby comes out of Kee's womb. In the morning they are woken up by Syd, who brings news of more trouble between Luke's rebels and the authorities. The Romanian woman screms warnings but Theo cannot understand. Sid pulls out a gun: he is after the money of the bounty that the authorities offer for their capture. Marichka attacks Sid and helps them reach the port despite a large Islamic demonstration is flooding the streets, that soon erupts in an armed uprising. Luke's gang captures Kee and the baby. Now there's absolute hell in the streets. Theo looks for Kee and finally finds her, following he cry of the baby, in a building that is mostly destroyed, completely surrounded by heavily armed government troops. Luke is still heroically fighting the tanks and machine guns of the authorities, but a bomb blows him up just when Theo and Kee leave the place. As Theo escorts Kee down the stairs, everybody stops to look at the baby. Both the troops and the rebels are transfixed and cease fire. As soon as they are out of the building, hell resumes. Marichka leads a wounded Theo and Kee to a boat, and Theo rows it to the sea. Theo dies while the air force is bombing the city and the "Human Project" ship approaches.

Gravity (2013) is a sci-fi thriller that sits somewhere between Stanely Kubrick's 2001 and Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars. Its main qualities are the elegant cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (when it doesn't plunge into pointless 3-D exhibitionism) and the romantic soundtrack by British composer Steven Price (when he doesn't indulge in Kitaro-style new-age apotheosis). It features two stereotypical Hollywood actors impersonating two stereotypical Hollywood characters: the buoyantly obnoxious John Wayne-kind of hero and the vulnerable attractive female rookie. It distances itself from the abused tradition that pits this pair together for an interminable duration by killing the former, so that the second half becomes a one-woman show. It is hard not to see this entire film as a variation on Kubrick's scene in which Hal sends the astronaut spinning silently through the empty space. One of the subthemes, the astronaut's parental trauma, is reminiscent of both Alien (Ripley dreams of reuniting herself with her lost daughter) and Contact (the scientist eventually reunites with her dead father in space). The dialogue occasionally evokes the lyrics of David Bowie's Space Oddity. And, of course, there is a long history of castaway movies, for example Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away (2000). The film doesn't have one tenth of the metaphysical depth of Tarkovsky's Solaris, but then it probably never wanted to. It is just lightweight entertainment for the high-tech generation. Scientific inaccuracies abound, but then, again, a film is not meant as a lecture on space travel. Implausible plots have driven masterpieces of cinema and literature, so why not a half-baked mass-market adventure thriller.

Three astronauts get out their space shuttle while orbiting around the Earth to do some work. The captain is Matt (George Clooney), a veteran of space missions. Medical engineer Ryan (Sandra Bullock), instead, is on her first space mission. Suddenly they are warned by the Earth base that the Russians have destroyed an old satellite and unwanted debris is flying towards them. Sure enough the debris hits the spacecraft and sends the girl spinning in the vacuum above the Earth. She panicks, unable to stop herself and to see anything other than the spinning Earth. Matt manages to find her and attach her to a cable. They return to the spacecraft to find the third member of the expedition dead. They gently swim in space towards an old abandoned space station. When they hit it, the collision is devastating. They try to stop themselves but only luck helps Ryan get entangle in a bunch of cables. Matt can't help flying away. She grabs his hand and saves his life. But he quickly realizes that this is not going to work: the tension is too strong, the cables will break, they will both die. There is only one solution: Matt disengages himself and she sees him floating away towards a terrible slow death. Nonetheless, he radios her instructions on how to enter the space station where she can finally breath normally and remove her astronaut overalls and reveal a slender attractive body. Now she's slowly rotating and swimming in zero gravity inside a strangely deserted high-tech world. She locates the radio and tries to contact Matt, but Matt does not respond, whether because he is dead or because he does not want to continue a pointless conversation, content that she made it. She broadcasts a message to Earth, hoping that they can hear it. A fire alarm goes off almost immediately. She puts the fire off and then conveniently finds an instruction manual on how to operate the space vehicle. The machine, however, is not going to cooperate. She is alive, but lost in space and cut off from all communications. Then out of the blue Matt reappears, alive and well. Alas, it is only a dream. She is woken up by yet another alarm buzz. But the ghost of Matt gives her the strength to try something desperate, using abovesaid manual. While she blabbers her thanks to Matt we also learn that she lost a daughter. She expels herself from the dead station with a goofy manouvre and then grabs it from the outside as if she were a cowboy at a rodeo. The plan fails and, once inside again, she has to deal with yet another alarm. The spacecraft picks up speed and flashes towards Earth. She is both delirious and ecstatic. She parachutes herself at the right moment and lands in a lake. The radio now picks up all sorts of Earthly signals. She risks drowning as the capsule sinks in the lake but, of course, manages to escape and swim to the surface, with hardly a scratch or a bruise. Her shorts and her shirt are not even torn.
Being a Hollywood movie, we never doubted the happy ending and never really felt too sorry for her: we knew she would make it alive. Yawn.

The autobiographical period piece Roma (2018), shot in black and white, set in 1970 in Mexico and played by non-professional actors, is Cuaron's 8 1/2, except that it replaces all the symbolism and surrealism of Fellini's film with a grim hyper-realism, focusing on the daily rituals of the struggling lumperproletariat instead of the existential languors of the spoiled middle class. The personal and the political mix in the story, with affectionate reminiscences of Cuaron's childhood mixing with quasi-documentary replicas of historical events (notably the "Corpus Christi massacre"). There are two protagonists, although the film is mainly interested in only the dispossessed one: an upper-class housewife who is abandoned by her wealthy husband, and her poor maid, who is abandoned by the boyfriend who left her pregnant (a character based on Cuaron's real-life nanny and housekeeper). They live in a wealthy neighborhood, Colonia Roma. The personal and the political cooperate to devastate the simple routines of the women's lives. What stands out immediately is the meticulously reconstruction of ordinary life in the 1970s. Next is the close-ups of insignificant objects, which invites the viewer to see them as more than just objects. The most powerful close-up is the one that introduces the father as he, smoking a cigarette, shifts gears to enter the garage. It is worthy of a horror movie, or of Orson Welles-ian psychological composition. Next is the frequent cacophony: the mayhem caused by the four children, the mayhem caused by the student riots, the mayhem of a family picnic in which the adults practice shooting, the mayhem caused by a forest fire. The only Fellini-an moment comes when a marching band passes twice in front of the house, once when the father is leaving and once when the family is returning. The only symbolic abstraction comes when we watch the scene from John Sturges's Marooned (1969) shown in a theater, a scene in which two astronauts are floating in empty space, perhaps a symbol representing the fate of the two abandoned women. For the rest, this is a film that belongs more to the age of Italian neorealism than to the age of Marvel super-heroes and Hispanic telenovelas.

Cleo, a poor maid, is washing the floor of the entrance of the mansion where she lives and works. Her employers are a wealthy couple, Sofia and her physician husband, with four kids. The maternal grandma also lives with them. She cleans, she serves, she plays with the children. The father arrives in the evening, driving a big car that doesn't quite fit in the entrance of the first scene. He has to manouver Cloe's only friend is the other maid and cook, Adela. They run like children to the movie theater where they have an appointment with Adela's boyfriend and his cousin Fermin. Fermin and Cleo skip the movie and sleep together in Fermin's apartment. He performs kungfu-style martial art naked in front of her, boasting of his training. The following day Sofia's husband leaves for Canada, but it is clear that this is more than a business trip, as Sofia almost starts crying and watches the car disappear in the street as a marching band passes by. Back at the movie theater, Cloe tells Fermin that she is pregnant while the theater is showing a funny war movie (La Grande Vadrouille). Fermin tells her that he needs to go to the restrooms but never comes back. The children play with hail. She watches like a zombie. Sofia tells the children that their father will not be back for the Christmas holiday and asks them to write each a letter to him. Cloe breaks the news to Sofia that she is pregnant. Cloe is afraid of being fired but instead Sofia offers to take her to the hospital for a check. Sofia has friends there because it's her husband's hospital. Sofia is clearly in a depressed state of mind because she drives the car between two trucks and manages to damage both sides. While a doctor examines Cloe, Sofia talks to another doctor friend about her husband deserting her. An earthquake shakes the building, the nurses rush to save the newborn babies, but Cloe doesn't move. Sofia organizes a visit to her brother. They has a big picnic with a family from the USA. Then they celebrate new year in a fancy mansion while Cloe celebrates it in a tavern with peasants. Returning home late at night, Cloe witnesses the drunk gringo trying to have sex with Sofia, who rejects him. In the middle of the night the forest catches fire and everybody has to rush with buckets to help contain it, except a drunk who sings a foreign lullaby. Cloe's belly is already swelling. Back home, granma takes the four children to the movies. The oldest runs away and Cloe slowly chases him. Just when she finds him, they see his father pass by with his lover. The boy denies that he just saw his own father. Cloe doesn't say anything, but now she knows the truth: he is not in Canada, he left Sofia for another woman. Cloe takes the bus to the muddy village where Fermin lives and asks Adela's boyfriend where she can find him. He is training with dozens of other fanatics, and they are watching a spiritual guru talking about superhuman energy (a guru that was shown on TV in a previous scene). The guru, blindfolded, assumes a difficult yoga-like position while standing up and challenges the men to do the same: they try in vain. Cloe approaches Fermin but he refuses to talk to her and even threatens her. He doesn't want anything to do with the baby. Back home, Cloe overhears Sofia complain that it's now six months since her husband left her and he is no longer sending them money. One of the children overhears. Her mom makes him promise not to tell the other children. Cloe stands petrified. Adela informs Cloe that the government is expropriating land and probably her own mom's land too, but Cloe remains indifferent. Sofia drives home drunk and damages the car again. Granma takes Cloe shopping for a crib during a student demonstration. The demonstration turns into a violent riot as fascist militias attack the students in the street. Two students run through the department store and are shot by the chasing fascists. One of the fascists is Fermin who briefly points his gun at Cloe. Granma drags Cloe into a taxi (in a street littered with dead bodies) and Cloe starts feeling the pain of labor, but the taxi cannot move because the streets are congested. When they finally reach the hospital, Sofia's husband runs into Cloe accidentally as they are taking her into surgery and reassures her that she's in good hands there. The baby, however, is born dead. The doctors allow her to hold the baby for a few seconds before packing it for burial. Sofia buys a smaller car and announces that she found a job. She finally tells the children that their father is not in Canada and will not come back. She organizes one last trip with the old car, this time to the beach. She and the children insists that the gloomy Cloe comes with them. At the beach two children swim too far into the sea while their mother is not around. Cloe does not know how to swim but walks into the waves to save them. They all hug on the beach and Cloe cries: she confesses that she didn't want the baby born. The trip was just an excuse to allow the husband to remove his furniture from the house, so they return to a half-empty house. The marching band is passing by again. Life goes on: Cloe washes dirty clothes, Sofia prepares to start working.
(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )