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Overview for Alfonso Arau
Alfonso Arau

Alfonso Arau

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: January 11, 1932 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Mexico Profession: Cast ... actor director dancer producer mime screenwriter
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BIOGRAPHY

into his old political groove, supporting Alex Coxâ¿¿s surrealist allegory of Reagan foreign policy, "Walker," where he played a Nicaraguan aristocrat who is party to the coup dâ¿¿etat by American soldier-of-fortune William Walker (Ed Harris). In 1989, Esquivel scored a major success with her novel Like Water for Chocolate, a magical but realism-infused tale of a Mexican girl, Tita, denied her true love by her repressive mother, who insists he marry her older sister, leading Tita to both sublimate and express her passions via her familyâ¿¿s sumptuous culinary traditions. Arau produced and directed the film adaptation of the book, which, premiering in 1992, drew wide critical laud and impressive box office receipts â¿¿ not only in Latin America but in the U.S., where its $22 million in revenues off a $2 million budget made it the top-grossing indie foreign language film up to that time.

The New York Times review called it "a Mexican film whose characters experience life so intensely that they sometimes literally smolder. The kitchen becomes a source of such witchcraft that a fervently prepared meal can fill diners with lust or grief or nausea, depending upon the cookâ¿¿s prevailing mood." The film won a sweep of the Ariels, taking 11 awards, but controversially failed to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. On top of that disappointment, the creative process strained Arauâ¿¿s relationship with Esquivel. They divorced in 1993, setting in motion an acrimonious legal process in which Esquivel sued Arau in New York, claiming he had fraudulently convinced her to sign away her rights to the property and thus sought $19 million of the filmâ¿¿s total profits. Nevertheless, the success of "Chocolate" garnered the attention of Hollywood studios, and 20th Century Fox soon contracted Arau to work his magic on an ambitious English-language romance. He would wield a roughly $20 million budget for "A Walk in the Clouds." The film starred Keanu Reeves as a G.I. returning from service in World War II, striking up a relationship with a pregnant single woman and helping to smooth things with her scion of a wealthy family of California vintners by posing as her husband.

Though opening to mixed reviews, the film proved a darkhorse chick-flick hit, bringing in $50 million in the U.S. market. In 2000, he went back in front of the camera with a short turn as an oddball mystic in the Heather Graham/Luke Wilson/Casey Affleck romantic comedy "Committed." Behind the camera, he directed himself again â¿¿ this time alongside Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Fran Drescher, Elliott Gould, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lou Diamond Phillips â¿¿ mixing oddball comedy with magical realism in "Picking Up the Pieces," a quirky ensemble comedy about hijinks surrounding a possible miracle in a small Southwestern town. Arau next took on Booth Tarkingtonâ¿¿s great American tragedy The Magnificent Ambersons, which Orson Welles had attempted to make for RKO but was infamously recut and denuded, replete with a Hollywood ending, by the studio. Made for the A&E channel, the film boasted an impressive cast that included Madeleine Stowe, Bruce Greenwood, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Gretchen Mol and Jennifer Tilly, and was heavily marketed as an attempt to fulfill Wellesâ¿¿ vision, working from his original script. Much discussed among cinephiles, it less than wowed critics and curiously wrapped with the RKO versionâ¿¿s chipper ending.

Arau made another telefilm, "A Painted House" for the "Hallmark Hall of Fame," based on John Grisham⿿s coming-of-age tale, and meanwhile immersed himself in a very personal, highly fictional and mystical tale of the great Mexican revolutionary "Zapata." Alternately subtitled "El sueño del héroe" ("The Dream of a Hero"), the film received a welter of hype in Mexico but was mired by cost-overruns and creative differences. Additionally, Arau⿿s stylized treatment of the beloved historical figure, rendering him as a Native American shaman confronting power in symbolic visions, proved controversial with critics and a detriment to box office traffic. It premiered in the U.S. in late 2004 at the Santa Fe Film Festival, which concurrently bestowed its Luminaria Lifetime Achievement Award on the director. In 2010, Arau returned to Europe and a quirky small-town setting, directing the Italian film "L'imbroglio nel lenzuolo" ("The Trick in the Sheet") (2010), a play on the first years of silent films, when they were projected onto white sheets. He then took a rare acting gig, supporting a cast that included Steve Guttenberg and Beverly D⿿Angelo in the heartfelt indie family comedy "I Heart Shakey" (2012).

By Matthew Grimmorker-turned-mask vigilante who defends the working class against the machinations of a corrupt elite. After a few more Mexican comedies, Arau decided to take a broader hand in his work, scripting and directing a film adaptation of the comic. He crafted a loopy, over-the-top comedy, that featured El ÿguila fighting both his factory boss and American gangster masters, with Arau playing both the hero and the gringo heavy.

"El águila descalza" won the Ariel de Oro of Mexico⿿s Oscar equivalent, the Ariel Awards, the next year. Some one-off roles periodically drew him back to the U.S., typically Mexican bandito stereotypes in Western series, as well as the Disney live-action adventure "Run, Cougar, Run" (1972). He reteamed with Isaac on "El rincón de las vírgenes" (1972), playing the assistant to a 1920s itinerant snake oil healer whose latest small-town rubes takes his claims too seriously and propose him for sainthood; and on another comic political critique, "Tivoli," a tale of a burlesque troupe, led by Arau, fighting to save its theater from the hypocritical government moralists. As auteur again, he worked from the comics of popular Mexican cartoonist Ruis to make another socially-conscious comedy, "Inspector Calzonzin" (1973), in which he played a Mexican indio on the lam who stumbles into a town run by a corrupt party functionary, who mistakes him for a government inspector. The send-up of Mexico⿿s corrupt long-ruling party, PRI, resulted in the state censors severely editing the film. Meanwhile, Arau, while teaching a screenwriting class, began a relationship with a teacher and aspiring writer, Laura Esquivel. The couple married in 1975.

North of the border, he did another Western Mexicano turn in a Hollywood film, Kirk Douglasâ¿¿s revisionist western "Posse" (1975), and turned in a supporting but more memorable turn as a zealous tow-truck driver in Bob Zemeckisâ¿¿ gritty Kurt Russell comedy, "Used Cars" (1980). He wrote, directed and starred in another comic outing "Mojado Power" (1981), and, in 1985, he brought his wife on-staff. The couple co-scripted a soccer-themed tale, "El chido guan: el tacos de oro" ("The Cool One: Gold Tacos") (1986). Though criticized as ham-fisted, replete with "Rocky"/Hollywood-esque underdog narrative, the film drew six Ariel nominations, including a tandem nomination for the couple for Best Screenplay and a Best Actor nomination for Arauâ¿¿s son by his first marriage, Fernando Arau. Meanwhile, the senior Arau began a run of memorable performances in American films. In 1984, he put a new twist on the bandito in the hit romantic adventure, "Romancing the Stone," in which he played a belligerent leader of a Columbian drug gang who suddenly gives cheerful aid and comfort to Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas upon discovering Turnerâ¿¿s character to be the romance novelist whose books he reads to his henchmen.

In 1986, his bandito went into overdrive for "Three Amigos!" with his portrayal of El Guapo, the gruff old-Hollywood Mexican stereotype of a border bandit, terrorizing a small village until clumsily confronted by three faded Hollywood silent movie stars (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Chevy Chase); the character was such a crass stereotype, it stirred the ire of Mexican-American groups. In 1987, he slipped back

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