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Alfonso Arau: The Talented Mexican Director Behind Like Water for Chocolate

Full Name Alfonso Arau Incháustegui
Born January 11, 1932 in Mexico City, Mexico
Occupation Film Director, Actor, Producer
Years Active 1950s-present
Spouse María Rojo (1964-1966), Laura Esquivel (late 1970s-early 1990s)
Notable Works Like Water for Chocolate, A Walk in the Clouds, Zapata: El sueño del héroe
Awards Golden Globe nomination, Ariel Award, FIPRESCI Prize, Order of the Aztec Eagle

Alfonso Arau Incháustegui, commonly known as Alfonso Arau, is an acclaimed Mexican filmmaker, actor, and singer best known for directing the 1992 hit film Like Water for Chocolate. With a prolific career spanning over five decades, Arau has become a master of Latin American cinema.

Early Life and Education

Born on January 11, 1932 in Mexico City, Arau discovered his passion for the arts at a young age. As a child, he delighted his family by staging shows and performances.

Arau went on to study theater at Mexico‘s prestigious National Autonomous University (UNAM). During these formative years, he began acting in plays and short films, getting a taste of the performer‘s lifestyle.

Rise to Fame as an Actor

In the late 1950s, Arau started gaining recognition for his acting work on Mexican stages and screens. His breakthrough came with a starring role in the 1959 film Pueblo en armas.

Throughout the 1960s, Arau acted in numerous Mexican films like:

  • El Gallo De Oro (1964)
  • Pedro Páramo (1967)
  • La Choca (1970)

He also started guest starring on American TV shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke.

In the 1970s, Arau moved to Hollywood and landed roles in high-profile films:

  • The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • Rio Lobo (1970)
  • Posse (1975)

During this time, he worked with esteemed directors like Sam Peckinpah and Kirk Douglas.

Shift to Directing

By the late 1970s, Arau began the transition from acting to directing. His directorial debut came with the 1977 Mexican comedy Fe, Esperanza y Caridad.

He directed a few more films before achieving his breakthrough hit Like Water for Chocolate in 1992. The magical realist romance based on his wife‘s novel became the highest grossing non-American film at the time.

Like Water for Chocolate earned Arau international acclaim and an Oscar nomination. His unique directorial vision solidified with this film.

Notable Directorial Works

Some of the highlights of Arau‘s wide-ranging directorial filmography include:

  • A Walk in the Clouds (1995) – Romantic drama starring Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón shot in Napa Valley.
  • Picking Up the Pieces (2000) – Dark comedy with Woody Allen and Kiefer Sutherland about a small New Mexican town.
  • Zapata: El sueño del héroe (2004) – Epic biopic about Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
  • L for Leisure (2014) – Comedy about a wealthy young Chinese man in Hawaii.

In addition to these major films, Arau has directed documentaries, shorts, and TV episodes over the decades. He occasionally acts in his own and others‘ projects as well.

Honors and Accomplishments

Some of the main honors recognizing Arau‘s illustrious career include:

  • Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film – Like Water for Chocolate
  • FIPRESCI Prize, San Sebastián Film Festival – Like Water for Chocolate
  • Ariel Award for Best Director – Like Water for Chocolate
  • Special jury prize, Havana Film Festival – Zapata: El sueño del héroe
  • Lifetime achievement award, Guadalajara Film Festival (2009)
  • Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexican government (2007)
  • Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2005)

Personal Life

Arau has been married twice over his life. His first marriage was to actress María Rojo from 1964 to 1966.

In 1967, Arau met writer Laura Esquivel during their theatre work. They married in the late 1970s, divorcing after Like Water for Chocolate.

Arau has three children from his marriages and currently resides in Los Angeles. He still owns a home in Mexico City as well.

Now in his 80s, Arau remains actively involved in filmmaking on both sides of the US-Mexico border. He enjoys pastimes like agriculture, golf, and astronomy.

Legacy as a Master Filmmaker

With his 50+ year career, Alfonso Arau has become a titan of Latin American cinema. As an actor, he brought Mexican talent to international films.

But his greatest impact was as a director. Like Water for Chocolate launched a new era of Mexican cinema worldwide. Arau‘s unique style has inspired countless filmmakers.

Still creating in his 9th decade, this master director‘s career continues to thrive. Alfonso Arau‘s lasting legacy ensures Mexican film will have a global voice for generations. He remains a prolific pioneers of Latin American movie-making.