Alfonso Cuarón won the BAFTA for best director for his latest work Gravity a proud achievement for any film director. In light of this event, we are taking look at the cinematic styles that closely defines his career and led up to this moment.
Cuarón’s career started in Mexico City where he was a student of philosophy and filmmaking. There, he met his future collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki who’d become his most frequent collaborator. In fact, Lubezki was the cinematographer of all of Cuarón’s directorial works excluding only Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Cuarón’s works are quite varied in terms of subject. His first feature was a quirky, dark comedy about AIDS (Solo Con Tu Pareja). Since then, his films have given us a quixotic story of a young girl in boarding school, a Dickensian tale of love and jealousy, a coming of age road trip, the fantastical world of wizardry, a dystopian tale of humanity’s collapse, and a realistic space fantasy.
In all of these, Cuarón has proved himself to be a consummate storyteller whether it is his original story or adaptation of a well-known piece of literature. His superb ability to define characters clearly, and create atmosphere and setting is greatly helped by his visual style.
Cuarón is quite well known for his love of long takes that cover multiple actions and often multiple locations. This technique was used quite extensively in Children of Men and Gravity. The use of long takes gives both films a sense of realism to a setting that lacks it a dystopian future and space fantasy.
Another one of Cuarón’s favourites is a handheld shot that obsessively follows the character and their gaze. This puts the audience in the position of the character or their companion and allows them to be more involved rather than remain an observer. Take for instance Theo walking through the ruins in Children of Men, or Luisa sensually dancing towards the camera as she holds its gaze, provocatively inviting the audience in, in Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Cuarón is also a big fan of symbolic closeups and nondidactic montages. The airplane Finn plays with in Great Expectations, our casual gaze across his paintings on the dingy motel room wall, and Cacho carefully stepping on his row of paper cones in Solo Con Tu Pareja are some of examples.
The realism of long takes and handheld shots are often contrasted with dreamlike lighting and soft focus as seen in the attic of Sara Crewe in the Little Princess, the pool scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien and the majority of Great Expectations.
Cuarón also loves to juxtapose wide, long shots with dangerously intimate close ups, further defining the character and their experiences in multiple perspectives.
Check out further examples of his work here:
Written by Freddie Kim