With his latest and most personal work, ROMA, Alfonso Cuarón has solidified his reputation as one of contemporary cinema’s most versatile and compelling voices. Since his debut feature, Sólo con tu pareja, made waves on the international festival circuit and became one of Mexico’s biggest box office earners in 1992 (despite its initial suppression by the government), Cuarón has tirelessly challenged the barriers of language and several distinct national film industries—including Hollywood, the UK, France, and his native Mexico—with a rich and varied body of work. The Film Society is honored to host Cuarón in person and bring together the director’s eight feature films: intimate dramas infused with humor and empathy, vividly stylized adaptations of beloved literary works, and technically groundbreaking global blockbusters that, taken together, offer insight into the mind of this masterful, inexhaustible filmmaker.
Complete Cuarón includes Sólo con tu pareja, a screwball comedy co-written with his brother Carlos Cuarón and shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki in their first collaboration; his autobiographical masterpiece ROMA (NYFF56 Centerpiece), presented on 70mm; his bold, beautiful adaptations of the literary classics A Little Princess and Great Expectations, both screening on 35mm; the gorgeously intimate yet undeniably raunchy Y tu mamá también (NYFF39), with Cuarón in person for an extended pre-screening conversation with NYFF Director Kent Jones on January 8; the dark fantasy Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which marked an aesthetic and tonal turn for the franchise with Cuarón at the helm; the dystopian political thriller Children of Men, based on the 1992 P. D. James novel; and the riveting, Academy Award-winning space epic Gravity, presented in 3D.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All screenings will take place in the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.
Children of Men
USA/UK/Japan, 2006, 35mm, 109m
Adapted from the 1992 P. D. James novel, Children of Men is set in a dystopian Britain on the brink of bleak demise. The human race has been ravaged by a plague of sterility and the youngest person in the world has just died at the age of 18. As desperation sets in, a lone pregnant woman must be transported to safety to ensure the future of humanity. This science fiction political thriller, directed and co-written by Cuarón, is beloved for its stirring performances by Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as well as its distinctive filmmaking technique.
UK/USA, 2013, 91m
Winner of seven Oscars, Cuarón’s riveting Gravity is a taut 90-minute emotional journey, captured with breathtaking and groundbreaking effects. Sandra Bullock, who holds the screen alone for much of the film, delivers a layered performance as a scientist on her first trip to space. The film’s much-discussed opening long take sets the scene: what starts as routine spacewalk peppered with witty banter, courtesy of a veteran astronaut played by George Clooney, quickly turns into turbulent, gut-wrenching ride. From there, Gravity becomes a story of isolation and survival in the unforgiving realm of outer space.
USA, 1998, 35mm, 111m
Cuarón’s boldly expressionist take on Great Expectations resounds with a visceral immediacy. Ethan Hawke plays the film’s modernized Pip, rechristened as Finn, a budding painter raised by his elder sister and her boyfriend (Chris Cooper) in working-class coastal Florida. When a gallery owner in New York offers Finn a solo show out of the blue, he travels north to pursue his art and the memory of his first love (Gwyneth Paltrow), now firmly embedded among Manhattan’s elite. With original artwork by Francesco Clemente, a period-appropriate soundtrack featuring Tori Amos and Pulp, and unforgettable turns from Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro, Cuarón’s reinvigorated spin on this story of class and identity emphasizes the ragged emotion at its heart.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
UK/USA, 2004, 35mm, 142m
The honeymoon glow of the wizarding world has begun to fade as Harry enters his third year of studies at Hogwarts, and Cuarón engineered the aesthetic pivot that would dictate the style guide for the remaining films: a cold-color palette emanating a darkness that must be offset by light from within. The Prisoner of Azkaban also covers crucial narrative ground from the books—Cuarón gets to introduce dementors and hippogriffs, new professors played by Emma Thompson and David Thewlis, and the titular wizard prison escapee Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who might have given up Harry’s parents to Lord Voldemort 12 years earlier. Enhanced by Cuarón’s deft choreography of deep focus action and his dedication to practical effects (many by Paul Kieve, the only professional illusionist ever hired to work on the series), the third Harry Potter film is a feast for the eyes, as well as proof of what a singular filmmaker might be able to apply to a global blockbuster.
A Little Princess
USA, 1995, 35mm, 97m
Cuarón beautifully adapts the classic story by Frances Hodgson Burnett about young Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews), sent from her home in India to a New York boarding school when her father leaves to fight in WWI. Her engaging spirit and imagination win her many friends, and one enemy: the headmistress Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron). Miss Minchin tolerates Sara only because of her father’s wealth, so when he disappears, his estate taken by the government, Sara is consigned to a cold attic room and expected to work to keep her place at the school. Capturing a youthful sense of delight and wonder with precise detail, A Little Princess shows how to handle difficult situations with clever perseverance.
Mexico, 2018, 70mm, 135m
Spanish with English subtitles
In Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographically inspired film, set in Mexico City in the early ’70s, we are placed within the physical and emotional terrain of a middle-class family whose center is quietly and unassumingly held by its beloved live-in nanny and housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio). The cast is uniformly magnificent, but the real star of ROMA is the world itself, fully present and vibrantly alive, from sudden life-changing events to the slightest shifts in mood and atmosphere. Cuarón tells us an epic story of everyday life while also gently sweeping us into a vast cinematic experience, in which time and space breathe and majestically unfold. Shot in breathtaking black and white and featuring a sound design that represents something new in the medium, ROMA is a truly visionary work. A Netflix release.
Sólo con tu pareja
Mexico, 1991, 35mm, 94m
Spanish with English subtitles
Cuarón’s mastery of rhythm and space was already evident in his debut feature. In this screwball comedy, an ad copywriter (Daniel Giménez Cacho, from Bad Education and Zama), tasked with brainstorming a slogan for jalapeño peppers, avoids writer’s block by compulsively sleeping with seemingly every woman he meets . . . to the point that he’s shuffling along his building’s exterior ledge between unsuspecting partners in separate flats. Soon after realizing she’s been duped, one of his lovers—a nurse with access to his medical records—decides it’s payback time. In his first collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón lovingly renders Sólo con tu pareja through tightly timed gags and vividly designed tableaux, and its script, co-written with his brother Carlos Cuarón, bestows ample humor and empathy upon this story of a middle-class libertine. Print courtesy of Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía (IMCINE).
Y tu mamá también
Mexico, 2001, 106m
Spanish with English subtitles
After Great Expectations, Cuarón returned to Mexico and made a film that his teenage self would have loved. The result was Y tu máma también, a gorgeously intimate three-hander wrapped up in an unabashedly raunchy road comedy. Co-written by Cuarón and his brother Carlos, the story follows two 17-year-old boys (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) at the mercy of their raging hormones after Luna’s cousin’s wife (Maribel Verdú) decides to join them on a multi-day drive to a beach tantalizingly called “Heaven’s Mouth”… which may not actually exist beyond a bluff from their initial flirtation. Told with a fluidity borne from the actors’ improvisation and DP Emmanuel Lubezki’s nimble handheld, Y tu máma también is the rare movie that captures the all-consuming desire of adolescence alongside a sober appraisal of the inevitable loss of that innocence, all against the backdrop of a Mexico in political transition.
(Pre-screening conversation with Alfonso Cuarón)