Ever since its initial release to Netflix late last November, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film Roma has been all over the news media.
Most recently, the New York Times spent time with Cuarón in Mexico City, in the neighborhood where Roma was born,, where the filmmaker spent his childhood in the 1970s. He took the Times correspondent on a tour through Roma Sur, pointing out sights and sounds that had been etched into his memory, many of which made their way into the film. The correspondent, Kirk Semple, had in fact grown up nearby in Roma Norte, which Cuarón described as the “right side of the tracks.” At the time, Cuarón explained that people would refer to Roma Sur as, “Roña,” the Spanish word for “scab” or “mange.”
“Every city has its own soundscape,” explained Cuarón. Though most of Roma was filmed indoors in a replica of his childhood home, the Mexico City that existed outside of those walls is still a dominating presence in the film. Street vendors holler about their wares, calls that penetrate the walls of the home. The sounds of buzzing industry whistle and blair in the background, while you can hear the domestic scrape of a neighbor’s sidewalk being swept by a broom.
A Star is Born in Aparicio
The film is based on Cuarón’s life, as a child growing up in a middle-class family. The star of the film, Yalitza Aparicio, is a character based on Cuarón’s nanny. Cuarón explained to ET that the Oaxacan-born Aparicio was a shoe-in for the role. “The moment I met her and she walked into my office I knew it was her. I was doing a film about one of the people I love most. It’s a woman who raised me.”
Aparicio had no prior training as an actor before landing the role of Cleo. “I didn’t want to do the casting,” she told The Guardian in November. “My sister pushed me because, in our community, they have never come before to ask us to be in films.” She shared that she was worried that the auditions were in fact a trafficking scam.
Aparicio has since graced the cover of Vogue México, which is perhaps the first time that someone with indigenous features has been on the front cover of the magazine, according to The Cut. Though Roma was based on Cuarón’s life, he told the Times that he also intended for the film to capture the social dynamics between the domestic working class and their middle-class employers.
In the midst of awards season, Roma has already racked up dozens of awards for best film and best director. Shot entirely in Spanish, Roma is on the ballots for this month’s Critics’ Choice Awards, along with another predominantly-Spanish language film, Icebox. Critics expect that the film will pick up several Academy Award nominations later this month. Cuarón’s award-winning filmography includes Y Tu Mamá También, Gravity, Children of Men, and The Prisoner of Azkaban, many of which he not only directed but worked on as producer, writer, and editor.