Sunday, October 14, 2018

NYFF Spotlight: Roma

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 56th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 14th.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Centerpiece Selection

There are a number of international directors whose careers have begun in their home countries before, as the phrase goes, “coming to Hollywood” and delivering more mainstream, and occasionally award-nominated, fare. Mexico native Alfonso Cuarón’s trajectory has been a bit different, with only the first and fourth of his seven feature films to date being in Spanish. He had his mainstream blockbuster, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” his follow-up genre hit, “Children of Men,” and the film that won him the Oscar for Best Director, “Gravity.” Now, with his eighth film, he is returning to his roots and to Mexico to tell the kind of story that for most directors comes at the beginning of their careers rather than at this point.

Yalitza Aparicio stars in the film

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as a maid in 1970 in the home of a wealthy Mexico City family. The patriarch, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), spends most of his time at the office and traveling for work, and whatever moments he does have he devotes instead to selfish interests, which drives the matriarch, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), crazy as she struggles to be a doting mother for her three children. While Cleo may not keep the house in the cleanest condition, her influence on the children is clear, and she serves as a crucial part of this family unit.

Alfonso Cuarón discusses the film

This is not the kind of film that often gets made in America, one that doesn’t have a specific plot hook other than that it follows a group of people over the course of a year in their lives. Cuarón’s work to date has been extremely diverse, but he always demonstrates an equal commitment to characters and to background details. The decision to shoot the film in black-and-white is an exceptional one, and the cinematography - by Cuarón himself - is mesmerizing, highlighting the mundanity of much of what the characters go through and the sparkling exceptions to that rule. The way in which Antonio’s car barely fits in the small alley next to their home and must be repositioned several times every time he pulls in and drives right over a staggering amount of dog feces left by Cleo is just one of the stunning images that helps to define this focused film.

Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira discuss the film

First-time actress Aparicio, who came to the New York Film Festival screening with an interpreter and received a tremendous and lengthy round of applause from the audience, is so subtly and simply effective as Cleo, a young woman who has never had much time to think about herself or what she might want if her circumstances were different yet continues to soldier on as events and realities dictate. Tavira portrays another form of self-sacrifice, exasperated beyond belief but never once contemplating taking the road her husband has to abandon his family. It’s great to see such powerful female performances featured in this film, which shows that Cuarón has drawn upon his more mainstream projects to create a deeply personal and fully captivating product.


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