In and Out of the Jungle: The Politics of Gael García Bernal

I’ll be presenting this paper at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference. March 22-26, 2016. Chicago, Illinois.


ABSTRACT: The career path of Gael García Bernal is inextricably linked to the alternative fortunes of Latin American cinema and questions of regional imaginary. In this paper I problematize the clichés attached to his fame by taking into account national, regional, and global sources in the light of transnational stardom theory. After the production crisis of the 1990s, Latin American cinema succeeded in regaining importance worldwide. Along with other scholars, Shaw and Shroeder addressed the revitalization of art cinema, the rebirth of film genres and identification techniques. However, even these insightful narratives marginalize the contribution of stars via performances, criticism and media promotion. While Bernal’s casting was pivotal for movies to receive international distribution and success at the box office, what do we make of his political commitment and his relationship with global cinematic industries? As a child star in Mexican telenovelas, Bernal masterfully explored issues of memory and identity by mobilizing affect and emotion. He later collaborated with the most talented directors of his generation (most notably Cuarón and Iñárritu) and played Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and in a television series. Bernal was identified as an “alternative” star, who prefers to take on complex roles in challenging movies, engaging audiences in voyages of self-discovery that combine humor, humanism, and historic travelogues. However, he also appeared in Nike Football: Write the Future, the Levi’s commercial French Dictionary, and in several Hollywood comedies. The cultural politics of Bernal’s stardom, in which idealism, rebellion and commerce coexist, brings to mind Godard’s formula “children of Marx and Coca Cola.” This contradiction emerges in the recent international productions Even the Rain (2010) and No (2012), in which Bernal questions his popularity in self-reflexive ways. In these films, his characters denounce social injustice but, by working within the moving image industry, are very much entangled in neoliberalist politics. Social engagement appears as advertisement, but advertisement is also a form of social engagement. The result is vertiginous, to the point that his whole stardom is based on this vital tension. Bernal is currently involved with alternative forms of digital production and distribution, such as the Amazon Studios series Mozart in the Jungle (2014 – ). He has expanded his fame by pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and his way of thinking about global politics not in terms of militancy, but as a dialogical exchange.

Selected Bibliographic Sources

Landy, Marcia. Cinema and Counter-history. Bloomington: Indiana, 2015.

Meeuf, Russell and Raphael, Raphael. Transnational Stardom: International Celebrity in Film and Popular Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Shaw, Deborah. The Three Amigos: The transnational filmmaking of Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Shroeder, Paul A. Latin American Cinema: A Comparative History. Oakland, University of California Press, 2016.

Soutar, Jethro. Gael García Bernal and the Latin America New Wave. London: Portico, 2008.

Filmography (in chronological order)

Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)

Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

Fidel (Showtime, 2002)

French Dictionary (Ivan Zacharias, 2003; commercial)

The Crime of Father Amaro (Carlos Carrera, 2002)

Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004)

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)

The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, 2006)

The Past (Héctor Babenco, 2007)

Blindness (Fernando Meirelles, 2008)

Nike: Write the Future (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010; commercial)

Letters to Juliet (Gary Winick, 2010)

A Little Bit of Heaven (Nicole Kassell, 2011)

Casa de Mi Padre (Matt Piedmont, 2012)



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