'Roma': Director Alfonso Cuaron sees his latest work as a 'whole cinematic experience'
'Roma' acted like Cuaron's lens into his childhood. The lens acted as a mirror which not only helped him recall his nanny, Libo, but also perceive her.
Alfonso Cuaron brought the charm of Italian cinema back through his latest movie, 'Roma'. Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, and Diego Cortina Autrey, the film, which is more of a biopic, chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family's maid, Cleo (played by Aparicio) in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
The film chiefly draws inspiration from Cuaron's memories of his nanny, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, an indigenous Mixtec woman from the village of Tepelmeme in Oaxaca, Mexico, who raised him from the time he was only nine months old. In its depiction of '70s Mexico, it brought into account the lives of domestic helpers who would live with families in the cities while supporting their own people in the villages.
Cuaron's journey in Hollywood has been an interesting one and unlike most other directors, he focuses on the human element of his characters. His 2013 Oscar-winning sci-fi movie, 'Gravity', in spite of inclining towards an epic space saga, revolved around Doctor Ryan Stone's (played by Sandra Bullock) internal conflict as she floated through space all alone.
The entire movie was a chain of soliloquies which not only brought out the desperation of Stone to land back on earth but also established the kind of character she was. However, Cuaron wanted to get it over with it as soon as possible.
Speaking with Red Bull, he said, "For 'Gravity,' I said to Chivo, 'Let’s make a film the fast and easy way. This is about a woman in space — so we’ll just film her against black backgrounds and that’s it. [Laughs.] Some visual effects and we’re done'.” Yet, his approach completely changed when it came to 'Roma'.
Cleo's character was at the center of the plot, the movie was set against the late 1970s' "Dirty War" in Mexico City and followed Cleo's eventual plight through the war-torn city into the domestic affairs of the family.
Cuaron was careful the production didn’t become the focus. "The universe within the movie should be the focus. The whole idea is to confront you with a universe. More than just the plot, I see it as the whole cinematic experience."
'Roma' acted like Cuaron's lens into his childhood. The lens seemed to faithfully follow Cleo who leaped in and out of her role of being a nanny and an ordinary girl but ultimately remained a devout helping hand to the family. As for Cuaron, the lens acted as a mirror into his childhood which not only helped him recall his nanny, Libo but also perceive her - probably for the first time - as an individual with a life of her own.
He confessed, "In 'Roma', every person willing to focus on their memories is going to discover something. Those might be joyful or unpleasant discoveries. To face your memory is to face what you were back then that still lives inside your subconscious."
Anyone who watches 'Roma' will probably realize Cleo's character, in spite of being the central one, was largely influenced by the characters around her. She was always portrayed in context to something as a nanny, a girlfriend, the mother of a dead child, and finally as a rescuer, and this very aspect is what makes Cuaron's noir a charming remembrance of the Italian tradition to tell small stories on the large canvas.
The fact that Cleo was an individual in context to other people is the reality Cuaron hits us with, claiming honestly that none of us truly exist if we are not noticed, not recognized, not loved.
Cuaron confessed the transformative power Roma held in his life, such that the director who is otherwise known for his intertextuality and allusions, refused to recreate another moment from another movie in order to make his work better.
He said, "For 'Roma', I tried consciously to avoid influences and references. I remember whistling a melody while framing a shot. I noticed it was a Bach tune that was used in a movie I really love... It doesn’t mean there are no references at all, because, just as in our lives, you are what you’ve been. In filming, you are what you’ve watched and read and listened to — and not just from movies."
'Roma' is now one of the nine movies from a field of 87 submissions toward the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category. It was named best picture and best foreign-language film of 2018 by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
It was considered Best Picture by the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics Association and at the Philadelphia Film Critics Awards. In fact, if all goes well, 'Roma' could make history as the first Netflix film to be up for Best Picture when the Oscar nominations are announced January 22.