7 Groundbreaking Mexican Filmmakers to Celebrate This Cinco de Mayo

Rudo y Cursi

Nate von Zumwalt

Cinco de Mayo can be a puzzling holiday for some Americans. First, there is the prevailing notion that May 5 is Mexico’s equivalent of the United States’ July Fourth. In fact, Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, during which Mexico defended itself against French invasion in a proverbial David versus Goliath clash. More confounding, however, is (some) Americans’ unique ability to revel in another country’s national holiday while also imploring that we build an impenetrable wall between the two countries. These things are invariably debatable; the pool of Sundance-supported Mexican and Mexican-American filmmaking talent is not. Here’s a rundown of seven Mexican filmmakers who have premiered films at the Sundance Film Festival and/or have attended a Sundance Institute Lab. And lastly, happy Cinco de Mayo—go remind your friends it’s not Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated September 16!

1. Alfonso Cuarón + Y Tu Mamá También (2002)

“Visually gorgeous, Y Tu Mamá También follows two best friends, bursting with sexual energy (as only high school boys do), as they take a journey with a beautiful Spanish lady from hypermodern Mexico City to the stunning, panoramic countryside.”

2. Guillermo del Toro + Cronos (1994)

“Loosely based on the vampire genre, the story begins in 1536 when an alchemist discovers the ‘chronos’ device which can prolong life. At his death 400 years later, he leaves the instructions in a diary. Jesus Gris, an antiquities dealer, accidentally discovers the device in an old icon and becomes embroiled with a dying industrialist who sends his heavies to recover it. But Gris has been caught up in pursuing eternal existence.”

3. Carlos Cuarón + Rudo y Cursi (2009)

“Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) are a pair of rivaling, dim-witted brothers who work on a dusty banana ranch and play soccer for their local team. Beto, a goalie whose hot temper on the field earns him the nickname of Rudo, dreams of becoming a professional soccer player, while Tato wants to be a famous singer. They both share the dream of building a big house for their mother, Elvira, but all of their desires seem completely out of reach, that is, until a talent scout, Batuta, discovers their skill on the field. To Beto’s chagrin, it is Tato, whose curlicue field play earns him the nickname of Cursi, who is chosen to become a star player. Not to be bested, Beto scores a goalie position on a rival team, further intensifying the competition between them. But success makes the brothers confront their own personal demons and sets them on a chase for more than just soccer balls.”

4. Alfonso Arau + Like Water For Chocolate (1993)

“Like Water For Chocolate, a melodrama based on screenwriter Laura Esquivel’s first novel, is a luscious testimony to hunger, in terms of love and food. In this fascinating story of unrequited love, food is both a means of imprisonment and an erotic magic wand.

“In 1910 during the Mexican revolution on the Texas-Mexican border, Tita is the youngest of three daughters of a stern and bitter matriarch. Tita and Pedro wish to be married, but tradition rules that the youngest must cook and care for her mother. To remain close to Tita, Pedro marries her sister, but Tita’s mother spitefully banishes the couple.”

5. Dana Rotberg + Angel of Fire (1993)

“In Angel of Fire, Rotberg moves beyond the light sexual farce of her first film to paint a dark, even macabre portrait of Mexican society, built around the passions and obsessions of master filmmakers like Bunuel and Fellini. Alma is a thirteen-year-old trapeze artist in a small, down-and-out traveling circus, along with her father, with whom she shares a trailer and sometimes abed. When she becomes pregnant. the circus discards her, and she wanders the streets before joining an evangelist and her son, who perform plays from the Bible. Her redemption lies before her, but her trials and tribulations continue.”

Diego Luna + Abel

“Adorable little Abel has problems in the head. His mother collects him from the psychiatric ward hoping not to upset him. She carefully discusses with his teacher how to deal with the absence of Abel’s father. The entire family is on pins and needles, worrying about Abel breaking down. But things take an interesting turn when the little boy emphatically carves out a new role for himself in the family—he decides to become the father of the house. Abel transforms the fear his family has about his episodes into the respect due to the head of the household. Oddly enough, it works! That is, until a stranger shows up at the breakfast table, claiming to be Abel’s father.”

Tin Dirdamal + DeNADIE (2006)

“Prepare for the journey as an unknown, a nothing, no one. Prepare to leave everything from South and Central America behind and travel alone with a vague sense of direction and the echo of your family left in your ears. Prepare to face the same intimidation and corruptive danger in Mexico as you will eventually find 1,300 miles north, when you cross into the United States—if you live through it.

“As rich nations sharpen their borders and differences, the poorest peoples continue to blur them in the search for liberties too universally held to be claimed by any flag. Through this burning hunger, we are drawn into DeNADIE, and through its intimate lens and enduring crew, we find ourselves confronted with a story of immigration we only thought we understood.”

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