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Guillermo Arriaga

Guillermo Arriaga is one of today's most original storytelling voices and makes his directorial debut with THE BURNING PLAIN. As a screenwriter and now a director, Arriaga spins exhilaratingly complex, emotional and provocative tapestries of human lives under intense pressure. His acclaimed and award-winning films—which include Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, the latter of which won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005—traverse a dazzling range of subject matters, characters and moods, yet share in common a visceral, often luminous, portrait of humanity.

For his insightful, thought-provoking work on Babel, Arriaga received numerous honors, among them an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and nominations from the Writers Guild of America, BAFTA and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The film garnered a total of 7 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and was named among the 10 best of the year by over 90 groups and publications, including The National Board of Review, American Film Institute, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and received the Golden Globe Award for Best Dramatic Film of 2006.

Shot in three continents and in 5 languages, BABEL explores with shattering realism the nature of the barriers that separate mankind. The film encompasses many of the resonant themes that Arriaga has continued to explore for the last 25 years: the challenges of communication, the importance of love, the consequences of our actions, the contradictions of human nature, the clashes between differing cultural points of view, and the enigma of contemporary isolation, both physical and emotional.

Born and raised in Mexico City, and educated at the Ibero-American University, Arriaga first came to the fore in Mexico as a novelist. His works, rife with a trademark sense of humor and irony, include Guillotine Squad (1991), A Sweet Smell of Death (1994), and The Night Buffalo (1999), as well as a book of short stories, Retorno 201 (2003), written when he was just 24. They have been translated in 18 languages and Arriaga has been cited by several critics as being among the most influential writers of our time.

In 1985, Arriaga suffered a serious car accident, which he later used as the basis for the film trilogy that began with Amores Perros, the first of three collaborations with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal and Adriana Barraza, the film explores the radiating effects of a single automobile crash on its various participants: the injured, the guilty and the witness.

The success of the film brought Arriaga his first taste of the global reach of cinema. After winning over international critics who hailed Amores Perros as an instant cinematic classic, the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and won the BAFTA Award in the same category in 2001. It would also soon become regarded as one of the first Mexican films to cross over into the Hollywood spotlight, presaging a new generation of filmmakers who have energized international moviemaking.

Amores Perros also introduced Arriaga's fresh, invigorating style of piecing together emotionally gripping stories as intricate, interlocking human puzzles. With this film, Arriaga announced his ambitious intention, followed ever since, to explore screenplays as literary creations, using the same care for language, structure and character development as any novel. Academics and critics who have followed his work have seen a close interplay of themes, vital concerns and structures between his novels and his screenplays.

Arriaga's on-screen exploration of the nature of fate and coincidence continued with the second film of his trilogy with González Iñárritu: 21 Grams, starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro, a film on which he also served as associate producer. Arriaga received a BAFTA nomination for his screenplay, and the film received Oscar nominations for Watts and Del Toro, and was included on many year-end Best Of lists in 2003. Arriaga constructed the three intertwining stories of 21 Grams around a freak accident which sets in motion an intricate emotional web among a group of intriguingly disparate characters: a critically ill mathematician, a grieving mother and a born-again ex-con. Arriaga's contributions to the film were further celebrated that year by the Independent Spirit Awards which gave 21 Grams its Special Distinction Award.

Before completing his trilogy about the consequences of modern life, Arriaga took a detour. He next embarked on a piercing yet poetic journey into justice, loyalty and friendship with his screenplay for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones in the story of a man who sets out to bury his friend in his Mexican hometown. Arriaga won the prestigious Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. A wholly unexpected take on the American Western, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada further demonstrated Arriaga's capacity to develop spellbinding stories in vastly different genres yet rife with his very personal themes.

In addition to his feature films and novels, Arriaga has also directed, produced and written short films, documentaries, television series, radio and television commercials and has been a college professor for more than 25 years.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2009.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Guillermo Arriaga Facts

OccupationDirector, Screenwriter
BirthdayMarch 13, 1958 (65)
BirthplaceMexico City, Mexico

Selected Filmography

Burning Plain
Rio, I Love You
Burning Plain / Before the Devil Knows You're Dead / Elegy
The Burning Plain
The Night Buffalo
Rio, Eu Te Amo
Burning Plain, The
Rogelio y otros excelentes cortometrajes
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