Al­fonso Cuarón fol­lows up Grav­ity by re­turn­ing to his roots with the in­ti­mate yet epic Roma


Fol­low­ing the head-spin­ning ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing 2013 as­tro­naut epic Grav­ity, di­rec­tor Al­fonso Cuarón felt the need to de­com­press. “I spent so much time in space,” he laughs, “I felt like I needed to be grounded.” The project that’s brought him back to terra firma couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Roma is an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal drama that Cuarón says is “90 per cent rooted in my own me­mory. In many ways it is un­like any other film I’ve ever done.”

Named af­ter Cuarón’s child­hood neigh­bour­hood, Roma chron­i­cles a year in the life of a mid­dle-class fam­ily in early ’70s Mex­ico City through the prism of nanny Cleo (new­comer Yal­itza Apari­cio). A love let­ter to the women who raised him, Cuarón has broad­ened the scope to take in the chang­ing face of his home­land,

as the fam­ily’s sanc­tity is threat­ened by stu­dent rev­o­lu­tions and a gov­ern­ment­backed mili­tia.

“The film is about the char­ac­ters and the so­cial con­text through which they flow,” he says. “It’s also a film about the per­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween race and class, about how the scars we ac­quire grow­ing up are also the wounds that are af­flicted to so­ci­eties. In that sense, the so­cial and the per­sonal are very con­nected.”

To keep things real, Cuarón changed up his film­mak­ing MO. He cast non-pro­fes­sion­als along­side vet­eran ac­tors. He was also the only per­son on set to have a script. “I didn’t want any­body work­ing from ex­pec­ta­tions of what they had seen writ­ten in stone,” he ex­plains. “Our mem­o­ries nur­tured each other.” He also wanted to “use all the toys that you have work­ing in a big Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion in the ser­vice of an­other kind of story.” This in­cluded shoot­ing the film in black-and-white on a large-for­mat 65mm 6K cam­era, in or­der to make the in­ti­mate feel epic.

“I wanted it to be black-and-white but not a nos­tal­gic ’40s, ’50s or ’60s black-and-white,” Cuarón says.

“I wanted to tell a pe­riod film in a con­tem­po­rary lan­guage. 65mm was per­fect to al­low the char­ac­ters just to be alone in­side the frame. You also have a res­o­lu­tion that is com­pletely op­po­site to the purists’ idea of grain. I love grain but I wanted a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

When his reg­u­lar cine­matog­ra­pher Em­manuel Lubezki proved un­avail­able, Cuarón also be­came his own DP. “I was a bit con­cerned,” he lev­els. “I made the de­ci­sion I didn’t want to de­velop com­mu­ni­ca­tion in English while I was do­ing a film in my mother tongue, so I de­cided to bite the bul­let. Af­ter the first cou­ple of days, it turned into a very nat­u­ral process.” If a black-and-white, Span­ish­language Mex­i­can film with no stars seems a com­mer­cially risky af­fair, Cuarón found a sup­port­ive part­ner in Net­flix — “They of­fered the best life for the movie…

They un­der­stood its uni­ver­sal­ity” — who promised the­atri­cal and home dis­tri­bu­tion, bring­ing the di­rec­tor’s labour of love to a per­fect con­clu­sion. “On a per­sonal level, it was a very heated, mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he con­cludes, “but very sat­is­fy­ing.” If you can’t imag­ine a more in­tense ride than be­ing hurled around space with San­dra Bul­lock, you might have to think again.

Main: (Yal­itza Nanny Apari­cio) Cleo com­forts her young charge while his mother hugs his father good­bye. Above: Di­rec­tor/writer Al­fonso Cuarón gives di­rec­tion to Apari­cio.

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