Why Alfonso Cuaron Teamed Up with Netflix on 'ROMA'

By Tutt, Louise | Screen International, December 5, 2018 | Go to article overview

Why Alfonso Cuaron Teamed Up with Netflix on 'ROMA'


Tutt, Louise, Screen International


Cuaron’s eighth feature has dominated the industry conversation ever since Cannes refused to it to screen in Competition.

Alfonso Cuaron is a man in the middle of a whirlwind. His eighth feature, the black-and-white, Spanish-language ROMA, has dominated the industry conversation ever since Cannes refused to allow the Netflix-backed film to screen in Competition and it went on to win the Golden Lion at Venice. With Cuaron taking ROMA to global film festivals to give it as much theatrical play as possible in state-of-the-art cinemas fitted with 70mm projection and Dolby Atmos sound, a storm has raged around the unprecedented (for Netflix) brief awards-qualifying window the streaming platform is giving the film, and what this means for the future of cinema.

But as Cannes, theatres and international awards bodies all grapple with the disruptive impact of an SVoD company owning all the rights to one of the most covetable arthouse films of the year, Cuaron is the epitome of calm. As a producer of the film, he was very involved with the deal that backer Participant Media struck with Netflix. He recalls there was plenty of interest in ROMA from distributors around the world, but it was Netflix that saw beyond the commercial limitations of a black-and-white film shot mostly in Chilango, a Mexico City dialect. “Netflix understood this film,” he says. “It was not only its ambition towards the film but the aggressiveness of how it wanted to do things. It has been really, really amazing.”

Cuaron, who in 2014 won two Baftas (best director and British best film), two Oscars (best director and best editor) and one Golden Globe (best film) for Gravity, started working on ROMA in early 2016, scouting locations in Mexico and looking for his cast with co-producers Gabriela Rodriguez and Nicolas Celis. The film portrays Cuaron’s memories of a pivotal year in the lives of the two women who raised him: his mother, Sofia, and his nanny, Libo, known in the film as Cleo, who comes from an indigenous background. It’s set in the 1970s, when Mexico was undergoing a period of tremendous political upheaval that’s reflected in middle-class Sofia’s own troubles — her husband effectively leaves her and her four children under the guise of a never-ending business trip — and Cleo’s discovery she is pregnant.

Authentic approach

Working with casting director Luis Rosales, Cuaron embarked on a search for his actors. “For this film to work, everything was on the shoulders of who was going to play Cleo,” he explains. His gaze alighted on newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, discovered at an open call in her home village in Oaxaca. But Aparicio had never heard of Cuaron and initially feared the production was a human trafficking racket. Once she met the director, however, her fears were allayed, and Cuaron was impressed by the chemistry between Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, the theatre actress he had cast as Sofia.

The filmmaker’s desire to realistically capture this moment in his childhood saw him attempt to shoot in his former family home in Mexico City’s now gentrified neighbourhood of Colonia Roma. “The problem is, first of all, there is a whole family living there so it is going to be difficult to take them out,” he explains. “But also, they have done so much work, [created] a transformation of the house. It was going to be almost impossible to make it work.”

Instead, the family allowed Cuaron and production designer Eugenio Caballero to measure the dimensions of the house, and the team found a building on the verge of demolition that they managed to delay. …

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