Guillermo Arriaga Jordán

Guillermo Arriaga Jordán

Guillermo Arriaga was born in Mexico City. His father was a professional, and by Arriaga's own admission, their home life was a happy one. But the neighborhood where he grew up was rough, and young Guillermo was prone to fighting in the often violent streets. At age 13, he was beaten so badly, that he permanently lost his sense of smell. The writer would later credit this environment for informing the way he approached violence in his work, focusing on the reality of the damage and aftermath rather than making it gratuitous and entertaining. But even as the teen was swinging his fists, a writer was slowly beginning to form - one who was too shy to talk to girls, but was comfortable crafting them romantic love letters. He fell in love with the girls early on, and the classics not long after, studying Shakespeare and writing his first stage play at the age of 15. It was never performed, though the production was rehearsed for over a year. Arriaga pulled the plug after refusing to change the ending per request of the actors. After middle school, Arriaga moved on to the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, earning a B.A. in communications and an M.A. in history. He began teaching media studies courses, and would do so for the next 25 years - even as he gained notoriety - first, as an author and then, as a screenwriter. Arriaga was working in television and had already published the novel A Sweet Scent of Death (1994), when a mutual friend introduced him to film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - who, himself, had a lengthy resume in television, advertising, and short independent films. Arriaga was wary of Inarritu at first. After all, an adaptation of his first novel had been made into what the writer called "a very boring film" - moving him to swear off adapting any more of his books to the big screen. But eventually Arriaga took a chance and told Inarritu of an idea he had for a film about dogfights. Thus, a partnership was born.Three years and 36 script drafts later, the twosome released "Amores Perros" (1999), a gritty tale of parents, children, and intertwined lives on the rough streets of Mexico City. The film brought overdue attention to Mexican filmmaking as a whole, and jettisoned Arriaga and Inarritu to international success with an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, a BAFTA Film Award for "Best Film not in the English Language," and the Critics Week Grand Prize and Young Critics Awards at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. That same year saw the release of Arriaga's second novel, Night Buffalo (1999)."Amores Perros" had established a working relationship between writer and director that would play out for two more feature films. "21 Grams" (2004) further explored Arriaga's obsession with death and study of its impact on the survivors, taking its title from an urban myth that the human body loses 21 grams at the time of death. "21 Grams" was filmed in the U.S., but writer and director avoided Hollywood pitfalls, maintaining their artistic vision and sophisticated narrative style and augmenting it with a big name cast including Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn. Arriaga's next outing was the screenplay for Tommy Lee Jones' "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" (2005) - a story of justice and redemption set in the dusty, lawless deserts neighboring the U.S.-Mexico border. The script was honored with the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes. Arriaga and Inarritu completed their "death trilogy" in 2006 with "Babel," expanding Arriaga's accidents, survivors and random collisions onto a global playing field of five continents speaking five different languages. Critics were divided over the film's lofty goals, but it did not stop "Babel" from receiving seven Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture and Best Screenplay. Despite their triple successes, Arriaga and Inarritu decided to part ways following "Babel," claiming the split was amicable, but Inarritu's refusal to appear alongside Arriaga at the Cannes screening of "Babel" suggested otherwise.In 2007, a self-penned screen adaptation of Arriaga's novel "Night Buffalo" was slated for release, as was his third novel, The Guillotine Squad. Despite his growing notoriety in the film world, Arriaga continued to maintain that he was a novelist, and screenwriting was simply his day job.