While it probably makes guys like Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo cry themselves to sleep at night, Mexican auteurs are making it big in America and worldwide. While it is debatable where their phenomenal success began, there’s a strong argument to be made that it started with 2002’s “Y Tu Mamá También” co-written by Carlos Cuarón and co-written and directed by his brother Alfonso Cuarón who has gone on to direct “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men”. Now Carlos Cuarón makes his feature-film directing debut with the funny and charming “Rudo y Cursi” which reunites “Y tu mamá” stars Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as soccer-playing brothers who are winners on the pitch but losers at about everything else. I spoke with Cuarón about the message and theme of his film, the politics of soccer, his use of narration, and the success of the Mexican auteurs compared to previous generations.
While I thought the film was very funny, I thought the film had a darker message about the meaninglessness of brotherhood due the miscommunication between Rudo and Cursi and how their drug lord brother-in-law is so successful. Is that something you intended or is that just me being insane?
Carlos Cuarón: I think that’s you being insane. I feel that it’s the other way around because at the end of the movie they come to terms with each other. As soccer players, they suck. Well, they don’t suck, but they are losers. They don’t achieve their final goals but as human beings, they do because this movie is all about what happens is they come to terms with one another. Through the good times, the bad times, and the so-so times, there are few things as enduring as a sibling and it goes to the extent that Rudo sings with Cursi the songs that [Rudo] hated.
The drug-lord thing has to do with more than the country than with the theme or the main characters. There is a social portrait, very intentional in the movie, depicting social classes and single mothers and failure and success and part of that are the drug lords. And unfortunately they have penetrated everything in Mexico and it is not nice. You see Mexican society is giving very few opportunities to young people. The most popular opportunity is you can leave the country and go to the states and make it big. You can also try to play soccer and become a soccer player but that is very difficult. Not only because you depend on talent but there is a lot of politics in that. The opportunity of becoming a singer…that is easier because there’s a worldwide trend of television creating these plastic idols which they use and then throw away. It could be easier if you have some talent and even you don’t you’ll still become famous. And then, something that is just below immigration, is the opportunity that drug lords are giving to the young people the opportunity to do what they do. They can either deal but they can also kill and that’s what they do. It has to do with that. The ending has to do with that, the guy who fulfills their dreams and blankets the family is the drug lord because that is what’s happening in Mexico.
But it has nothing to do with the main theme. On the contrary, brotherhood is so important that they come to terms with each other.
And that’s why my understanding of the film seemed odd because I know you have a close relationship with your brother. But thank you for clearing that up.
Cuaron: But I don’t have to explain to you my movie. If that’s how you saw it, it’s perfectly okay.
I wanted to talk to you more about Mexican culture because there is a great line in your movie about how owners just create a new team if they’re not winning and I don’t know much about football (I just instinctually call it “soccer”) but is this a worldwide trend or was this just trying to convey the particulars of the football business in Mexico?
Cuarón: No, it’s not a worldwide trend at all. As I am making a social portrait it is with soccer because it is the most important sport in Mexico and in the world. And the thing with that is that it is the specific Mexican dynamics and it was hard to explain to the Argentina actor, the guy who plays Baton [Guillermo Francella], and while we were doing the scene he would say, “I don’t get that. Why would he say that?” So it was me and Diego explaining that in Mexico it is very common that a second division team buys a franchise of a shitty first division team and that’s how they go up. It’s not very sportsman-like but that happens. He just didn’t get it. And with this, I don’t want to say there isn’t corruption outside of Mexico. No, there’s a lot of corruption in soccer in the world. A lot. But not that kind of corruption. Argentina is different. There’s a different kind of corruption.
What is a worldwide trend and I show in the movie is the thing of the head coach having a cut of the players’ salaries. That has been standardized. It happens in Spain and it happens in England too. That happens in Argentina and it happens in Mexico. And those poor guys. I think it’s totally unfair.
One of my favorite elements in “Y Tu Mamá También” was the omniscient narration, providing short but profound views in to the lives of characters across the film. “Rudo Y Cursi” has that same quotable narration, but it almost seems to be a parody of “Y Tu Mamá” with Baton’s “wisdom” drifting into the absurd as we slowly see that he’s not the fairy godmother that he appears to be. So my first questions is what appeals to you about this narrative device of the brief, observant voice over and secondly, did you look back to “Y Tu Mamá ” as an influence?
Cuarón: It’s not that it’s an influence but I wrote it so I’m sure some of it was transferred to “Rudo y Cursi”. There are many things in common but they are very different. One of them is the narration. In “Y Tu Mamá También”, it was omniscient, very clinical and very deadpan, which did not narrate but contextualized and told us context surrounding the two main characters because they sort of traveled in a bubble. It’s what happened around them that they did not or did not care or did not notice. But this is a character so it’s his viewpoint all the way. It’s not deadpan, it’s not objective, it’s very personal. He doesn’t narrate either. What he does is he philosophizes. Cheap philosophy? Pocket-book philosophy? Yeah. But that’s him. So he’s continually creating these comparisons and metaphors between soccer and life and what I wanted to do was create a contrast. If there’s something I like about human beings, it’s the contradictions. And I wanted to create a contradiction between his “poetry” to his actions. How he acts is very different from his narrative place. I wanted to create that difference because I don’t like flat characters and that helped to create a more dimensional character because he truly contradicts himself. All the poetry he talks about comes to shit because all he truly cares about is money. He only cares about himself and maybe one of his babes. And ironically, he becomes a surrogate father for these guys but there’s nothing as strong as his stake in his money and his life. That’s why I did that kind of narrator.
Mexican auteurs have been able to tap into the mainstream in way that wasn’t previous possible. You, your brother, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu have managed larger success and recognition than earlier generations of Mexican filmmakers like Luis Buñuel and despite his Spanish origin as opposed to Mexican, Perdo Almodovar?
Cuarón: Well Buñuel was also a Spaniard but he did one of his most famous films, “Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones)” in Mexico. Yeah…well it’s a generational thing. The present time that we are living is very different from the past and the fact that we don’t think Mexico as our rooftop. We have a planet here. A very interesting planet and we care about humanities and not nationalities. Nationalities are just accidents in our lives. I was given a Mexican passport just because I was born in Mexico City. If I had been born in Los Angeles, I would have been American. If I had been born in Los Angeles two hundred years ago, I would have been Mexican. These are just accidents. What we value is humanity. I guess what we have in common, as Faulkner would put it, is that we care about telling stories about the human heart in conflict with itself. And I think that’s the difference from the previous generation. And I think our themes, the treatment of those themes, is very universal but the context is very specific. So it is a very colorful and rich and new to American audiences the context in “Rudo y Cursi” but it’s also very rich and all of that, the different contexts in “Babel” or “Children of Men”. The fact that we value that as a reflection of what is happening today. Even if it’s a futuristic story like my brother’s. And I think that’s what’s happening and not just with the four of us.