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Focus Gael García Bernal

Focus Gael García Bernal

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Que Viva Gael García Bernal!

He has Latin sex-symbol charisma, fused with an engagement with the world and a mimetic talent for seeing right through his characters—from screenplay choices on—before creating them in their full physicality. This year at Locarno, along with the “magnificent enigma” of Charlotte Rampling, a second Excellence Award Moët & Chandon goes to the Mexican actor Gael García Bernal.

Born in 1978, not yet 34, he has already piled up a heap of important performances that have earned him a firm place in the world’s collective cinematic imagination.  Think, for example, of his two 2004 films, the road-movie version of Che Guevara in Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries and then the eccentric boarding school transvestitism of Pedro Almodóvar’s erotic thriller Bad Education.

And more proof of his talent will come at Locarno, just after the prize-giving ceremony on Wednesday 8th August, with the screening in Piazza Grande of No, one of the most successful and acclaimed films at Cannes this year. Directed by Pablo Larraín, of Tony Manero and Post Mortem fame, Bernal plays the leader of the “No” campaign in Chile in the 1980s that forced out dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Despite the Hollywood doors that have opened for him as his professional star has risen, Bernal has never let go of his close ties to Latin America and its film industry. The son of two actors, after precocious debuts in theatre and television soaps and studies in London, it was during the great renaissance of Mexican cinema in the years around 2000 that Bernal initially found international fame with a astounding one-two punch.

The first to land was his performance in the first episode of Amores Perros, by Alejandro González Iñárritu (2000), written by Guillermo Arriaga, an immersion in the world of illegal dog-fighting, followed swiftly by Alfonso Cuarón’s erotic road trip Y tu mamá también, which also starred his friend Diego Luna and won both of them the Marcello Mastroianni prize at the Venice Film Festival. Subsequently his filmography really began to take flight.

In Carlos Carrera’s The Crime of Father Amaro he played the part of a young priest who falls in love with a catechist. In its companion piece, Don’t Tempt Me, the actor plays a boxer whose soul is fought over by a demon and an angel, the devilish Penelope Cruz and the celestial Victoria Abril. At Cannes in 2003, he won the Chopard prize for Male Revelation, a high point that was followed by the aforementioned 2004 double bill of The Motorcycle Diaries and Bad Education.

Then came the tragic Oedipus of James Marsh’s The King (2005) with William Hurt, the calendar designer of Michel Gondry’s dreamlike The Science of Sleep (2006) with Charlotte Gainsbourg and the return to Iñárritu’s direction with the ensemble drama Babel (2006), also starring Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt.

Throughout he has never neglected to experiment with new directions, as when in 2007 he made his directing debut with Déficit, a cross-section look at Mexican society that bridges the gap between social classes. Or his more recent flirtations with American comedy, in 2010 in Gary Scott Winick’s Letters to Juliet and the following year alongside Kate Hudson in the sentimental A Little Bit of Heaven, directed by Nicole Kassell.

Last year saw Bernal make an appearance on Locarno’s screens in the International Competition entry The Loneliest Planet, directed by Julia Loktev, almost a kind of appetizer for what we’ll see this year.

Lorenzo Buccella

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