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A Closer Look at the Incredible Cinematic Style of Alfonso Cuarón

GRAVITYWith the remarkable commercial and critical success of his latest film, GravityAlfonso Cuarón, the Mexican filmmaker who became widely known to international audiences with his 2001 film Y Tu Mamá Tambiénseems poised to reach a new level of success. With his frequent collaborator, DP Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón has worked in almost every genre of film while still maintaining a unique cinematic sensibility. A remarkable new video shows Cuarón’s magical use of cinematic technique, and it is definitely worthwhile viewing for all movie-lovers. Click below to learn more about Cuarón and check it out!


Alfonso Cuarón’s indie film bona fides are well established. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he was asked if it was true whether he dropped out of film school:

No, I was expelled. Chivo (Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) was expelled from the school as well — It’s a combination of things. I think Chivo and I — had a different way of seeing films. But in retrospect, I’m sure we were very arrogant. It was mostly about us questioning the ways of doing films, and we didn’t want to subscribe to certain ways that the school had at that time.

Cuarón and Lubezki would go on to collaborate on a number of Cuarón’s most renowned films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and now, Gravity. Cuarón has also made several films without Lubezki, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanIn his films with Lubezki, though, the two have managed to bring a unique cinematic take to whatever subject, whether coming-of-age road movie, dystopian future, or realistic space fantasy. Cuarón is also notable for being heavily involved in the editing of most of his films.

Even when packed with dialogue (e.g., Children of Men) Cuarón’s films have a simultaneous and mesmerizing visual style that is difficult to put into words. Cuarón has that most valuable asset for a director, namely, his ability to match subject and aesthetic (as well as good taste, and an ability to trust in his collaborators.)

Gravity makes use of extremely long takes, and the last Cuarón film to do the same was Children of Men, where the aim was to make a grim future look as realistic as possible (so it seemed as though the viewer was trapped inside a horrifying documentary.) The same technique is used in Gravity, though differently, in much the same way Kubrick used the long take in 2001: A Space Odyssey, that is, to bring verisimilitude to the fantastic.

The cut is so crucial to the grammar of cinema, so ingrained in every viewer, that its absence is a presence, pointing as it does to a temporal continuity, the illusion of action over time, i.e., a long take foregrounds a ‘realism’ in the viewer’s mind, no matter the arduous complexities and artifices in putting that take together.

This video, made by Jorge Gonzalez Diaz, is a mesmerizing look at the visual style of Cuarón. Diaz says:

I wanted to pay tribute to Alfonso Cuarón’s  cinematic inclinations: his understanding of cinema as a threshold, of cinema as ‘pure cinema’—and his deep interest in associating cinema with the dreamlike.

As an indie filmmaker, what do you think there is to learn from the career of Alfonso Cuarón? How do you think working with a collaborator like Lubezki has shaped his career? Let us know in the comments!

[via Fandor]

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  • Maxim Drygin on 10.29.13 @ 10:08AM

    Outstanding, thank you guys, especially for the insight into the earlier work with long shots reference.

  • I don’t know about you guys, but I was blown away by GRAVITY. It lived up to every bit of the hype going into it. If you haven’t seen it yet, run out now and go see it. I know it sounds crazy, but go see it in IMAX 3D…it’s the best use of 3D to date. Completely immersive…it’s the closest thing to being in space without having to be an astronaut.

  • Great article. It’s always great to pause for a second and look up and listen to the masters of this craft.

  • I check out (and save to favorities some) set (30′ about) of hi res photos from this on flicr :)

  • Lubezki, also known to many as “Chevo”, has had a great influence on Cuarón atleast in my opinion. Of course this doesn’t take anything away from his talent. I believe that Cuarón’s friends in the business have been very helpful allowing him to grow and exchange himself with Fincher, del Torro and Sydney Pollack to name a few.

    I think it was really brave to make Gravity and I hope it will allow studios to see that you don’t need a $ 250 mio. budget to make profit compared to all the insanely high budgeted movies that crashed this summer/year.
    Perhaps the story of Gravity could have asked for a little more depth building the characters and allowing for the audience to care more about bullocks character than just biting their fingernails watching the amazing cinematography. But not to sound harsh. There may be more intelligent plots and more fleshed out chracters. However Gravity to me is Movie of the year so far.

    Go Alfonso!

      • Thanks!

        I can only suggest everyone sees this in IMAX / 3D and very important at a theater with a Dolby Atmos system.
        After seeing it a second time in a smaller theater it took so much away from the experience. Best 3D-choreography I’ve seen too! It is kind of sad that once people with watch this at home, even if they have a 3D Bluray set up with 5.1 it just doesn’t compare to the immersive experience of iMAX etc as I wrote above.

  • Lubezki is known as “Chivo”… typos….

  • My favourite post on this site in the 3 yrs or so I’ve been coming here

  • Hey you guys outdid yourselves on this one I love this post man mr.cuaron and mr.lubezki are visionaries in their approach I see why they both were expelled from school lol they were on a different road love their work very inspiring

  • Michael Bishop on 10.30.13 @ 8:26AM

    The wife and I went and seen GRAVITY last week. We watch it at the IMAX 3D. Even know we have a LG TV and Blu-ray that plays 3D player we haven’t watch many 3D movies. We enjoyed GRAVITY.

  • Harry Pray IV on 10.30.13 @ 10:50AM

    Cuarón and Lubezki have been my favorite for quite a while. They don’t know how to make a bad film. Hopefully Cuarón will continue his amazing run. He even shines with bad scripts.

  • Great Expectations is really beautiful! Go see it if you haven’t yet.

  • movie of the year!

  • I have to say that I was blown away by the visuals, the VFX, the great use of 3D, photography, realism, action, pace and performances.

    I still don’t think it was as great a movie as it is said to be.

  • Gravity has to be the weakest of Cuaron’s films. Very, very disappointing… the only thing truly redeeming about it was the Dolby Atmos mix. Now, THAT was ground breaking!

    “Apollo 13″ was a superior space-disaster film in every conceivable way… and Ron Howard and crew actually took the time to shoot the ship interiors in real zero-g to give it a realistic and authentic look. CGI manipulation cannot simulate the real deal.

    The action felt very first-person-shooter-esque and the peril from the space debris was quite repetitive.

    Most of the pseudo-science used throughout did not help their case for plausibility. And I cannot fathom Sandra Bulloch’s character >ever< passing her astronaut training in order to wind up on a mission.

    This was just a vehicle for special effects and a new sound format. Period.

    • Rave on.. …..you won’t be finding many takers…anywhere

      • Then I weep for the future of cinema if something like Gravity is widely considered the epitome of a film maker’s talent and skills. It’s like saying the Transformers franchise is the best a summer movie can be.

        • I agree with you man. I can’t believe all the hype the film is getting. I found it weak storywise and to be honest all the action was cool looking but quite boring after a while.I can understand the beauty on its visual part, but it lacked depth in my opinion.

          • It lacked DEPTH??!?! This film was to me more about the person, in this case two of them, and their personality, the way they handle situations when in danger, or in general at all. Space is merely a backdrop, a gorgeous one, but it’s a picture about human reflection more than anything. How a human can act n to only in space, but when he is alone, completely alone.

            If this film is getting “too hyped” don’t blame that on the film itself, blame it on the people making it be that way. Yes I agree the sound was the only “groundbreaking” part of the film, and maybe maybe disagree a little but like any film in cinema, story is the heart of it all.

            Just my two cents, peace.

  • For people that complain about pseudo science on here, was Children of Men then a catastrophe and completely stupid!?!!? A world like that would never be possible and will never exists right???!! (sarcasm)

    It’s cinema people!

  • if i can sum up alfonso cuaron’s style in one phrase, based on his movies ive actually seen, it would be “stop and smell the flowers.” :)

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