Jonás Cuarón inherited his love of cinema from his father, four-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. "As a little kid, he made me watch A Man Escaped, and I was like, 'Oh, come on! A French movie in black and white?!' But then I would love it," Cuarón says. "I've learned so much from him, but the biggest thing was just the fact that he loves cinema so much."
From a young age, Cuarón knew he wanted to be a writer. But it wasn't until he was in college, studying English literature, that he realized his true passion was actually cinema. "What excited me about cinema is that it's a narrative medium, that it's a visual medium, that it has sound and music, so you can really create a connection from all fronts."
Together, the father and son co-wrote 2013's Gravity, which won seven Oscars including Best Director for the elder Cuarón. Jonás wrote and directed the seven-minute short film, Aningaaq, as a companion piece. He went on to co-write, produce, direct, and edit the 2015 thriller, Desierto, starring Gael García Bernal.
During the pandemic, Cuarón began showing his own children some of his favorite films. He began by introducing them to the movies he loved when he was their age — the seminal Amblin films of the 1980s — which ultimately became the inspiration for his new movie, Chupa. The family adventure follows a 13-year-old as he travels to Mexico and befriends the mythical Chupacabra living in his abuelo's shed.
"When you get to see magic on-screen as a kid, it helps you believe that there's magic out there. But the contexts were rarely my own context," explains Cuarón. "Those movies show a very specific U.S., but I thought, in Chupa, it was exciting to be able to do the same but in a Mexican context."
Below, Cuarón shares with A.frame five of the films he was most excited to share with his kids, and their influence on both his love of cinema in general and Chupa specifically. This is, however, not a comprehensive list, as he adds, "We recently watched Apocalypse Now, and that movie is like the pinnacle of cinema for me."
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Melissa Mathison
The first one's obviously E.T. I rewatched it like 30 times during the process of making Chupa. And it's so grounded. Like, if you take the alien out of the story, it's still a very captivating movie. And how it portrays a family that's dealing with a divorce and a kid dealing with coming of age, like the scene where Elliot frees all the frogs and kisses the girl at school. Even the editing of that film is so cinematic and expressionistic for a kid's movie. You don't expect a scene like that in a kid's movie, particularly the way it's filmed! So, in that sense, E.T. is a movie that there's so much to grab on.
Also, in general, in trying to learn how to compose a shot and compose a scene, I kept going to Spielberg. During this process, I watched so many movies of his, but the way he manages to be very economical with the shots and the way he plans the scene definitely is always really inspiring to me. He has such a beautiful camera language. It's really long shots, but they have such strong drive. And the way he edits between those masters is really fun. So, in that sense, I owe a lot of Chupa to really watching his movies.
Directed by: Rob Reiner | Written by: Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans
Stand by Me is the movie that made me want to be a writer. As a kid, when I watched that scene where [Gordie is] able to bring warmth to that night with his friends by telling the story of the kid and the pie contest — to me, that's a scene that makes you want to be a writer. And it makes sense that it's coming from Stephen King's source material, because he is such a passionate writer.
But it's also a movie that really shows a very coming-of-age sense of fraternity, but most importantly, in facing death. That's what a lot of those movies do: Through an adventure, characters are constantly faced with the subject matter of death. As a kid, that's truly what makes you grow up. The confrontation with the idea of death.
Directed by: Brad Bird | Written by: Tim McCanlies, Brad Bird, and Brent Forrester
The Iron Giant is a movie that my kids have seen a lot. And a lot of what resonates with me in that movie is the relationship between a boy and a creature. But it's also the nostalgia for a time, and that's weird as a Mexican kid because I didn't grow up in that time and I didn't grow up in the U.S.! There's something to how that cinema created a whole world, and that movie really grabs onto that world and synthesizes it and creates some nostalgia, that it's weird that it creates that nostalgia in me because I never experienced that reality.
Written and directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
My Neighbor Totoro is one my kids have watched so many times, even before pandemic. I think all these movies about creatures and kids are so magical in seeing the innocence of the relationship between a kid and a creature. Because it transcends language, and that's so beautiful. During Chupa, Totoro was another very strong reference for me, because of the way that those stories are used to deal with the concept of grief. I mean, what the kids are going through, it's pretty devastating. They have a mom in the hospital, and how you can have magic to cope with your reality is really beautiful.
Written and directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Pan's Labyrinth, to me, is the same concept of believing that there can be magic, and then, how we use magic to cope with the darkness of our reality. I was older when I first saw it — which is why I've always been on the fence to show Pan's Labyrinth to my kids. I'm going to show it to my older one now. But I must have been in late high school or college, and it blew my mind. I already knew about the Spanish Civil War, but the way he was able to tell a story of the Spanish Civil War that is so specific and cruel, but at the same time, so full of light and magic really is impressive.
It's a movie for older audiences, but then you could argue that it does have the sensibilities for kids. And that is a really interesting challenge to me: How do you show the horror of certain aspects of the world to kids? When cinema manages to be beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, those are the movies that really stand [the test of] time.