Guillermo Arriaga (Mexico City, 1958) often insists that there is no influence of cinema in his novels. If not, rather, it is the other way around. First there would be literature and then recognition and success would have come as a screenwriter with films like Loves Dogs or 21 grams. In his first stories – gathered in the volume Return 201, written in the late eighties and reissued by Foam Pages in 2006 – the intricate structures of interwoven stories and leaps in time, the house of his 2000 scripts, as well as his personal obsessions: violence, death, redemption or loss. The same themes that are also present in Save the fire, last winning novel of the Alfaguara Prize.
Devotee of William Faulkner, the father of modern literary polyphony, during his years as a teacher at a Mexican private university, he once raised a game in class. He told his students that he would invite a special author the next day and please bring food and drink to accompany the conference. Upon entering the classroom, he appeared with a framed photo of Faulkner, placed it on the table and gave them the speech of the Nobel reception in 1949.
“Young writers have forgotten the problems of the human heart and their conflicts with themselves. Only that would be enough to make good literature, ”the author of The noise and the fury. With that tradition, deep down as well as in the form, Arriaga feels identified. The universal themes represented in individual tragedies. Shakespeare, Hemingway, Rulfo, Stendhal or Dostoevsky are other great names that he usually cites as references.
“Facing a cultural context that so frequently cultivates cynicism, he continues to appeal to big questions and human relationships. In addition to excelling for a great technical work and commitment to literature ”, emphasizes the Mexican writer Julián Herbert, with whom Arriaga usually crosses drafts during the writing process. In that dense and forceful line, Herbert believes that there is a turning point in his work from his return to the novel after almost two decades focused on the script.
The wild (Alfaguara 2017), a voluminous text of almost 700 pages, culmination of an obsessive work that lasted more than five years, with vigorous narrative rhythm and autobiographical draft, would mark a distance from its language of cinema. “From this novel, Guillermo’s literary prose is heading in an almost opposite direction to the cinematographic, his way of building the characters is increasingly accurate, more intense and more extensive.”
After Babel (2006), with which he won the Oscar nomination, Arriaga broke his productive bond with the director Alejandro González Iñárritu, with whom he revolutionized the Mexican and international scene. His last movie, The Burning Plain, his prime opera as a director, is from 2008. Since then, he has turned the wheel and to concentrate again on literature.
His almost monastic commitment to his works and his status as a teacher are the two features that Maruan Soto Antaki stands out. “There is a whole generation of filmmakers who grew up watching Guillermo’s most famous films, learning from that technique based on parallel universes that merge,” says the Mexican writer thinking of already established names like Amat Escalante, Michel Franco or David Pablos.
On the Mexican landing of the great issues that Arriaga addresses in his works, Herbert recognizes “a talent for finding how touching and sublime there can be in certain forms of violence.” But it is not clear that this is the product of a strictly Mexican creation. “Part of his works happen in Canada, the United States or the Middle East. I think he simply faces universal issues from the personal substrate he has. ”
Arriaga also often repeats that, despite having his fetish authors, he prefers to look far at metaliterature. He tries to feed his work from his own life. For example, from his experiences as a middle-class, hyperactive and big-boy, in a tough neighborhood on the periphery of the Mexican capital. A time when he kept getting into fights, so many blows that he ended up losing his sense of smell.