Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Was Making Something That Came Directly from Memory; FILM Roma Director Alfonso Cuaron Never Expected His Black-and-White Ode to His Childhood to Be Nominated for 10 Oscars, He Tells Susannah Butter

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Was Making Something That Came Directly from Memory; FILM Roma Director Alfonso Cuaron Never Expected His Black-and-White Ode to His Childhood to Be Nominated for 10 Oscars, He Tells Susannah Butter

Article excerpt

Byline: Susannah Butter

IT was very unlikely that Roma would become so mainstream," says Alfonso Cuaron, speaking on the phone from his home in Italy and happily surprised that his latest film has received 10 Oscar nominations. "When we were trying to sell it there was always a filter. It's a black- and-white Mexican film with an unknown cast. It is challenging."

Roma is an ode to Cuaron's childhood in Mexico City. It centres on Cleo, a maid based on a woman who worked for Cuaron's family, and is told against the background of the political turmoil of Seventies Latin America. Cuaron, 57, had the idea for it in 2006 and let it germinate for 10 years.

It confounded expectations. Back in 2014, Cuaron had Hollywood at his fingertips. His space epic, Gravity, had earned him an Oscar for Best Director and he was inundated with big-budget offers to make blockbusters. He joked that he would like "to make any films where the characters walked on the floor". Instead of following the money, he went back to his idea to take his skills back home, for a "simpler, personal" project. And the film was released in an unconventional way -- through Netflix.

The Netflix connection meant Roma had an inauspicious start; it was dropped from the line-up at last year's Cannes Film Festival for not meeting the theatrical release criteria and there was speculation about whether it was eligible for film awards. But it is challenging the expectations of what Netflix releases can achieve, with 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture -- a record for a foreign language film, held jointly with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- and seven Bafta nominations. Earlier this month it won two Golden Globes and in September it picked up the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion.

"When we presented it to Netflix they never flinched about it being different," says Cuaron. "They understood the film for what it is and its universal resonance. What is amazing is audiences are showing they are interested in that diversity. That is so important."

It still mattered to Cuaron that his film was released in cinemas, which Netflix was happy to do, at the same time as streaming it.

Netflix brings a democratic flexibility. "The combination of worlds is exciting. Yalitza, who plays Cleo, is happy because her community can see it. You need to drive for three hours [where she lives] to get to the movies and for some places outside our privileged universe the movie-going experiences is more challenging."

Yalitza Aparicio had never acted before Roma; now she is nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. She's a 25-year-old primary school teacher who lives in one room with her family in rural Mexico and only auditioned because her sister forced her to go to a casting to tell her what it was like. "A lot of people are asking to work with her now," says Cuaron. "She would like to continue teaching and acting."

He was in Italy when he found out about the Oscar nominations and messaged the cast. "I was particularly happy for Yalitza and Marina [de Tavira, who plays the mother, Sofia, and is up for Best Supporting Actress]. It is well deserved; people are celebrating the humanity they bring to the screen."

It's a first for Cuaron too; he's never done the cinematography for a feature film before but had to when his longtactular, collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was busy. The film still has Lubezki's signature long takes but with a Cuaron touch. "I started out as a cinematographer at film school. …

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