'Gravity' Director Alfonso Cuaron's Potential Oscar Win Is Met With Ambivalence In His Native Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Oscars could be Mexico's big night, with three Mexicans nominated for directing, cinematography and acting.

Except that some in Mexico aren't looking at it that way.

Despite feeble cries of "Viva Mexico!" by some politicians and celebrities for the best-director nomination of Alfonso Cuaron, many here see "Gravity" as a non-Mexican movie made by a man swallowed by Hollywood long ago — not as a product of Mexico's own proud but struggling film industry.

"To say that 'Gravity' is a Mexican achievement is like saying that 'Rosemary's Baby' was a Polish one," said Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, referring to director Roman Polanski's masterpiece.

To say that 'Gravity' is a Mexican achievement is like saying that 'Rosemary's Baby' was a Polish one.

— Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, referring to director Roman Polanski's masterpiece

In a speech at an award ceremony earlier this week, Ripstein instead urged moviegoers to defend Mexican films that portray the country's culture and realities, rather than feeling proud of those who succeed by leaving the country and working in another language.

The same can be said for the two other nominees Sunday. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including now for "Gravity," but always for non-Mexican-themed movies. And Lupita Nyong'o, Hollywood's new sensation for her work in "12 Years a Slave,' happened to be born in Mexico City but lived there less than a year and grew up in her native Kenya.

But the Mexican soul-searching centers mainly on Cuaron, who made the lost-in-space odyssey that has been applauded as a sci-fi breakthrough because of its extraordinary special effects. Before that, he had directed many international films, including "The Little Princess," ''Children of Men" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

"Gravity" itself is an example of how global the film industry has become. Much of the "Hollywood" film was made in London, and it won Cuaron this year's award for best director of a British film.

The last Spanish-language film he directed was "Y Tu Mama, Tambien," in 2001, which launched the Hollywood careers of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal.

In fact, several Mexican newspapers have reported that Cuaron alienated a professor at the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico for making an English-language film in college, and left shortly after without finishing.

"We have to be very proud that this is a man who came out of the Mexican education system with Mexican film professors. He is the son of Mexican cinema. But he has become universal," said Leon Krauze, a cultural commentator and news anchor for the Univision network. If he wins, Cuaron would not only be the first Mexican, but also the first Latin American director to win an Oscar for best director.

Despite repeated attempts by The Associated Press, Cuaron was not available for an interview.

Since his nomination, a photo of his college ID as proof of his roots has circulated in the Mexican media, though a newspaper profile later revealed his early departure from university. School representatives said they could not disclose details of why his studies ended in the 1980s.

After some work in TV and the Mexican 1991 comedy, "Love in the Time of Hysteria," Cuaron moved to Hollywood, where his general film debut was "A Little Princess" in 1995, for which Lubezki was nominated in cinematography. His 2006 "Children of Men," starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, was nominated for three Oscars, including writing and film editing for Cuaron and Lubezki for cinematography.

Some praise him for handling themes far from crooked cops, drug lords and migrants.

"He deserves the prize. He has made a very interesting career in Hollywood," said Ernesto Diezmartinez, a movie critic for national newspaper Reforma.

Even Cuaron himself wrote in Reforma that Mexicans should praise countrymen who deal with domestic themes, such as Amat Escalante, whose film "Heli" was submitted — but not nominated — for Best Foreign Film. It is a portrait of a family shaken by drug violence.

But Cuaron doesn't hide his roots. A native of Mexico City, he mocks himself for his thick accent, joking that his "Gravity" star, Sandra Bullock, thought he wanted to give her "herpes" when he said "ear piece."

When he won the Golden Globe for best director and exclaimed, "Ay, guey!" — Mexican slang that loosely translates as: "Oh, boy!" The phrase was the headline in Mexico the next day.

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