As beautiful and poetic as it is emotional and dramatic, Roma has proven to be a critical darling ever since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, where it won the prestigious Golden Lion award.
That’s likely to be the first of many awards for Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to “Gravity.”
“Gravity” and “Roma” couldn’t be more different.
One is a sci-fi blockbuster spectacular about Sandra Bullock’s return to Earth from space, while the other is an intimate, patient, hypnotic drama with no mainstream actors that tells the deeply biographical story of Cuaron’s upbringing in 1970s Mexico City.
“Roma’s” main character is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the housekeeper of Antonio, Sofia, their three young children, her mother Teresa, who has to juggle her own personal problems with those of the family that she cares for.
Cleo is based on Libo, the housekeeper that Cuaron himself grew up with, and during my recent discussion with Aparicio I was keen to know just how biographical “Roma” was to the filmmaker’s own life.
“We had a discussion about this shortly after I accepted the role,” Aparicio explained. “He told me it was going to be an autobiographical film.”
“He told me about Libo, the woman on which my character is based, and he told me about and her life and that the whole movie was autobiographical.”
“Alfonso has clarified that on the one hand some of it is Libo’s biography. Because there are scenes where Alfonso wouldn’t have been present because he was a kid. So it is about her memories. Then there are other scenes about his memories. So it is a combination of their memories.”
“I had a chance to meet Libo before I started filming. She mostly told me about her past. Because as far as what was actually going to take place during the film I was not privy to that information. I had no idea what was going to happen throughout the course of the film.”
“After I talked to Libo I realized that we shared a very similar kind of past. And I also realized given the type of work that she does, which is domestic work, that is similar to what my mother does.”
“So this was an opportunity to pay homage to my mother and what my mother does. So in a sense it was a combination of both of them, I tried to combine both Libo and my mother in the role.”
But how did Aparicio, who had never acted before “Roma,” get cast?
“It was a very long casting process. It started off in my home town of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, which is about 3 hours away from Mexico City. That’s where it started.”
“It was a long process. At first it was just personal interviews. I was invited to just talk about myself. Then eventually it evolved to playing out scenes and acting them from the film. Then, much later, I met Marina, who plays the mother, and we worked together and acted together. Then we both got the role on the spot.”
When it came to being on set with Cuaron, Aparicio was more than happy to just “be guided by the great master.”
“I figured that if I made mistakes he would just let me know. I just let myself get taken over and I wanted to live out the film like it was my life.”
The result has blown away critics, to the tune of a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and Aparicio is ecstatic that with “Roma” audiences are getting to see a side to Mexican life that cinema has mostly overlooked.
“I am very happy to be bringing this story to screens and people around the world, so people can see Mexico and appreciate Mexico and see its culture around the world.”
“Roma” is released in select cinemas on November 21, while it will be released on Netflix on December 14.