Arau Turns Water into Wine
by Sherri Sylvester
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- "Like Water for Chocolate" is the most successful foreign film of all time. Its style, called "magical realism," enchanted movie-goers around the world, and its success brought Alfonso Arau his first Hollywood feature as a director, "A Walk in the Clouds."
"If you are a bullfighter you dream of going to Madrid," says Arau. "If you are a filmmaker you dream of going to Hollywood."
Arau's dream brought him to Northern California's wine country where he sets the scene for love.
"The Napa Valley is so romantic. The vineyards and the rolling hills with this mist and the morning sun and the afternoon, it's absolutely romantic," says the director.
He planned three weeks of rehearsals for the actors "to stop their thoughts and release their passions." Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon experience their most sensual encounter in a vat. Arau wrote a song for the occasion and choreographed the grape-stomping scene.
"We invented this ritual which is like a combination between the Greek old rituals and the Mexican rituals," says Arau. "The lights were so beautiful at 6 o'clock in the afternoon that we shot that scene during three consecutive days."
All was not romantic behind the scenes, however. The film's closing includes a credit for "snake control."
"Here in the Napa Valley we were shooting in the vineyards, and you have snakes in the vineyards. They have a specialist to control the snakes. These guys are fantastic, they have this special thing to catch the snakes, and they know (where) you have to be careful and which areas are safe. You need that," says Arau.
Arau has made six films in 30 years as a director. However, his "Chocolate" success will up the ante to one feature a year. That may take him away from his most recognized job, acting. Arau is a familiar face to fans of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch," in addition to several other features. His comedic performances include roles in "The Three Amigos and "Romancing the Stone."
While his bandito image was played for money, his behind-the-scenes work is all about love.
"We all love sensuality. We are erotic so you just have to put the right elements in the right place and the sensuality will come alive," he says.
For Alfonso Arau, being a good story teller means telling an old-fashioned love story.