Celebrating Gael García Bernal on His 45th Birthday

Gael García Bernal

Today Gael García Bernal celebrates his 45th birthday and we’re taking the day to re-watch some of his best performances.

The award-winning actor and director from Guadalajara, Bernal has become one of the most celebrated and influential performers of his generation. One of the most recognized faces of Mexican cinema, his successful and acclaimed career has spanned decades and includes collaborations with many of the greatest and most daring contemporary directors, such as Pedro Almodόvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón, and M. Night Shyamalan to name a few.

At 45, he is known for his challenging, eclectic, and brainy roles from Amores Perros to Cassandro. On the occasion of the Mexican star’s 45th birthday, let’s revisit five of his most iconic roles.

Amores Perros (2000)

Who could forget Bernal’s expressive and provocative performance in Amores Perros? We begin our list with director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s powerful first film, which also marked the acting debut of Gael García Bernal.

Written by screenwriter and novelist Guillermo Arriaga Jordan, Amores Perros tells the stories of Octavio (Bernal), Valeria (Goya Toledo), and Chivo (Emilio Echevarría) whose lives intersect following a shocking traffic accident. With a fragmented, non-chronological structure, the Mexican film follows Octavio, a humble teenager who becomes obsessed with his brother’s wife; Valeria, a famous model whose world is shattered after the loss of her leg; and finally, Chivo, a former guerrilla fighter who seeks to make amends for a painful family history. What unfolds is a visceral and urgent feature film that explores chance and the forces of destiny. 

Bernal begins his film career with an intense and deeply emotional role. In Octavio’s skin, the actor manages to capture the anguish of overflowing love and raw survival through clandestine dog fights. His work was widely praised by critics and catapulted him almost into the international art world.

Amores Perros was nominated for an Oscar as “Best Foreign Film” and Bernal’s performance was awarded the Ariel award

La Mala Educación (2004)

We continue with La Mala Educación (Bad Education), a controversial Spanish drama, written and directed by Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar. 

La Mala Educación is set in the early 1960s and tells the story of two old schoolmates, Ignacio and Enrique, who meet and connect through the magic of cinema and sexual violence in a Catholic school. Fifteen years later, the old friends meet again, the victimizer reappears, and they spin a web of deceit, betrayal, and death. This labyrinthine melodrama deftly dramatizes how significant childhood events have a decisive impact on identity and adult life.

The impressive performance of Gael García Bernal gives life to three intertwined characters. As a drag queen, the actor disappears completely and develops a seductive, enigmatic, and extremely beautiful female figure. Once again, critics praised the Mexican for his chameleonic capacity.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

In 1952, two Argentinian adventurers, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Bernal) and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), decide to travel across the South American landscape on a rickety motorcycle. They start in Buenos Aires, cross the Andes to Chile, and ride deep into the depths of the continent. The Motorcycle Diaries follows this 8,000-mile journey as Che begins to set his course as a leader.

This biopic by Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles is inspired by Che’s own memoirs, originally titled Notas de Viaje, and Alberto Granado’s book Viajes con el Che Guevara

Bernal is absolutely convincing as an idealistic, sensitive, and energetic young man, in the midst of discovering his insurgent spirit. In this coming-of-age drama, the Mexican actor delivers another seductive performance discovering Ernesto Guevara before he became “Che”. 

Salles’ film won the Oscar for “Best Original Song,” thanks to the theme song “Al Otro Lado del Río.

Mozart in the Jungle (2014 – 2018)

Created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Paul Weitz, Mozart in the Jungle chronicles the misadventures – musical, professional, and romantic – of members of the New York Symphony Orchestra. 

The series follows the experiences of Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), a promising oboist who joins the New York orchestra under the tutelage of the passionate and eccentric “maestro” Rodrigo de Souza (Bernal). The Amazon Prime comedy-drama is based on the memoir Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music by oboist Blair Tindall.

In this series, Bernal delivers one of the most exciting, magnetic, and funny performances in his repertoire. The actor steals the show, not only because Rodrigo is a character rich in nuance, but because Bernal manages to captivate the audience with his eloquent charisma and remarkable vulnerability. 

At the 2016 Golden Globes ceremony, Mozart in the Jungle won the award for “Best Comedy or Musical Series” and Bernal took home the statuette for “Best Performance.”

Cassandro (2023)

The incisive and entertaining biopic Cassandro tells the story of Saúl Armendáriz, the first openly gay Mexican wrestling star. Bernal takes on the lead role of Saul Armendáriz/Cassandro as he rises to the pinnacle of stardom and revolutionizes a purely macho sport. 

Bernal’s Saul lights up the ring and it’s a pleasure to see the sensitivity, theatricality, and grit with which the Mexican performer shows us the flamboyant queer pioneer. Critics have been predicting that Gael Garcia Bernal could earn an Oscar nomination for his impressive performance.

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