When one reflects on modern Mexican cinema today, the association mostly falls on directors like Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity"), Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Birdman") and Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"). In the case of Cuarón and Iñárritu, they would tell you a big key to their success is their collaboration with Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel ‘El Chivo’ Lubezki. After all, it is the cinematographer - in charge of a movie scene's lighting and composition - who realizes a director's vision on film. But before Lubezki, another Mexican cinematographer's work made an indelible mark in film history, and that was the late Gabriel Figueroa.
“Figueroa is given credit for creating this monumental image of Mexico - more like mid-20th century Mexico," said Jorge Daniel Veneciano, executive director of El Museo del Barrio. Veneciano said Figureoa's work helps look at Mexico and the history of the country in different moments in time through the films he shot.
It was Figueroa’s distinctive style and technique which not only elevated the respect of Mexican movie making globally, but it exported the quintessential aesthetic we have come to instantaneously recognize in the classic Mexican movies of yesterday, primarily in the period between the 1930s to the 1960s known as the "Golden Age" of Mexican cinema. Figueroa worked with film "giants" such as directors John Huston and Luis Buñuel.
This is why New York City’s Film Forum and El Museo Del Barrio have joined forces to bring an unprecedented art and film retrospective of the Mexican cinematographer’s work.
The Film Forum is currently presenting a two-week (June 5-18), 19-film look at his cinematic catalogue which includes “Enamorada,” (1946) considered the “Gone with the Wind” of Mexican cinema, “The Night of the Iguana,” (1964) Figueroa’s only Oscar nomination and “Macario,” (1960), the first Mexican film ever to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
Many of these classic movies capture his artistry, but it is the deconstruction of his work that one can embrace at El Museo Del Barrio’s exhibition, “Under The Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa - Art and Film” which is now on view through June 27th. This rare exhibition of the Mexican filmmaker offers great insights into the craft of one of the most respected Latin American filmmakers of the 20th century.