As of 2018, the real Cleo, Liboria Rodríguez (Libo), is still alive and still part of Alfonso Cuarón's family, or Alfonso Cuarón's family is still part of Libo's life. She has made cameos or brief appearances in several of his previous films, including Y Tu Mamá También (2001) in a scene where she brings Diego Luna a sandwich.
Alfonso Cuarón decided to shoot on location in Mexico City instead of using a soundstage. This is one reason for the several appearances of airplanes, because according to Cuarón they had a plane passing by every five minutes.
Alfonso Cuarón was the only person on set to know the entire script and the direction of the film. Each day, before filming, the director would hand the lines to his cast, attempting to elicit real emotion and shock from his actors. Each actor would also receive contradictory directions and explanations, which meant that there was chaos on set every day. For Cuarón, "that's exactly what life is like: it's chaotic and you can't really plan how you'll react to a given situation."
Many were mystified by Alfonso Cuarón's decision to release this very cinematic film on Netflix. One of his primary reasons for doing this was because foreign language films do not usually get adequate distribution. By releasing it on Netflix, Alfonso Cuarón knew Roma (2018) would potentially play to its widest audience.
Alfonso Cuarón's statement for the film: "There are periods in history that scar societies and moments in life that transform us as individuals. Time and space constrain us, but they also define who we are, creating inexplicable bonds with others that flow with us at the same time and through the same places. Roma is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost fifty years ago. It is an exploration of Mexico's social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it's an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time."
Roma is the first time that Alfonso Cuarón, who received an official cinematographer credit, became his own cinematographer on one of his own feature projects. Cuarón originally intended for the movie to be shot by Emmanuel Lubezki. Because of logistic reasons Lubezki couldn't proceed after he had already done some preparations. Also Cuarón didn't want to hire an English-language DP and have to translate his own experience, which is why he ended up as a cinematographer.
In 2017 the Cannes Film Festival decided not to let films done exclusively for Netflix or other streaming services participate in the festival, stating that Cannes wants to preserve the traditional way of watching and making films. In 2018 Netflix announced a boycott of the festival, and Roma instead went to the Venice festival. One of the filmmakers who supported Netflix was Alfonso Cuarón. He has stated on several occasions that festivals and academies should appreciate films made for streaming services.
According to Alfonso Cuarón, the significance of opening the movie with an airplane flying across the sky, reflected in a puddle of water, was to use the planes as a symbol of a transient situation and stating that there's a universe that is broader than the life that these characters have.
While introducing the film at a screening at the New York Film Festival, Guillermo del Toro, who was also the president of the jury at the 75th Venice Film Festival which awarded the film with the Golden Lion, named Roma one of his top 5 favorite films of all time.
According to Emmanuel Lubezki, the scene blocking is very perpendicular to the lens (the actors move parallel to the camera and the shots are composed in Z axis rather than in X axis) to make the camera almost a consciousness revisiting the story, as though the camera knows something the actors don't. Alfonso Cuarón, on the other hand, counters this notion by stating that the position of camera is like "the ghost of the present that is visiting the past, without getting involved, just observing, not trying to make a judgment or commentary" and adds that "everything there would be the commentary itself".
The movie in the first cinema scene was La Grande Vadrouille (1966) while the film which the family attends is the 1969 American space-adventure film Marooned (1969), a precursor to Cuarón's Oscar-winner Gravity (2013).
First film to be distributed primarily by a streaming service (Netflix) to be nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. This feat challenges the Academy's years long bias against the non-theatrical distribution model of Netflix and other streaming platforms.
First-time actress Yalitza Aparicio was literally plucked from obscurity by writer-director Alfonso Cuarón. About to become a school teacher, she had 8 months to kill waiting for her test results, and because she had "nothing better to do" in the meantime she auditioned for Cuarón, totally unaware of who he was. The audition process stretched out over a year and, after much consideration, Alfonso chose Yalitza over 110 girls who had vied for the role.
Alfonso Cuarón becomes the first person in Oscar history to be nominated for and to win the Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Cinematography in the same year and for the same film. He received additional nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for the film as well.
When it comes to the complexities involved in scene composition and lighting, Alfonso Cuarón, being also the cinematographer on Roma, would ask himself: "What would Chivo do?" (with reference to Emmanuel Lubezki).
The title refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City. In the 1970s depicted in the film, the area was a polarized mixture of rich and poor classes. Today, it is known for being a hipster district.
(2018) During a directors' round table discussion courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, Spike Lee expressed his amazement at director Alfonso Cuarón's camera work on the ocean near the film's conclusion. He asked about whether Cuarón had used a Louma Crane for the shot and was told that a Technocrane was employed atop a pier the unit had constructed especially for the shot. Unfortunately for the production, a tropical storm had weakened the pier and the crane kept derailing, but after some perseverance they eventually managed to complete the shot.
The scene at the 35 minute mark where the mother watches her husband drive away as a band marches down the street is a reference to the climax of Mexican Golden Age film Enamorada (1946) where soldiers march down a street and the main character played by María Félix sees her love interest leave town. Interestingly, that scene is a reference to Morocco (1930), where Marlene Dietrich's love interest leaves town in a similar fashion.
Here is what Guillermo del Toro wrote on Alfonso Cuarón for Variety's 2018 version of annual "Directors on Directors" piece: "All roads lead to 'Roma,' as the saying goes. But the most successful, the most heartening of those roads is the one Alfonso took: after the enormous critical and box office triumph of Gravity (2013), Alfonso was in a perfect position to do whatever he wanted. He could have commanded life-setting paydays to helm any or all superhero stories, he could have decided to work with the biggest stars or tackle a blank-check epic full of color and bombast. And he chose 'Roma.' A black-and-white, minute re-creation of a Mexico that faded, that disappeared after the massive earthquake in 1985 (unnoticed by most, several blocks of the city were re-created, cars, avenues, stores and all on a backlot set built for the film) and the story of an unsung hero in a middle-class family with no great anecdote or particular agency in the large movements of history in Mexico. He chose to make an epic effort to tell an intimate story. He made a conscious effort to tell this story devoid of the trappings of Aristotelian three-act structure but he did so with what is, to date, his most precise, his most breathtaking use of cinema as a language and a medium. He chose wisely. And to me this is the confirmation of his spirit - one that he has demonstrated by going back and doing Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and will do again in the future. In these, our troubled times, he speaks about characters that are invisible and dramas that go unspoken, and thus he provides us with the most urgent of antidotes: empathy."
Established Mexican actress Marina de Tavira (Sofia) auditioned for three months without ever knowing who would be directing. She didn't learn that fellow Mexican Alfonso Cuarón was both writer and director until her 7th audition.
Yalitza Aparicio's sister first spotted a casting call flyer and asked her sister to join her. As it turned out, her sister couldn't make it because she was pregnant so Yalitza decided to go anyway and found herself in the lead role.
Alfonso Cuarón stated that Roma is the first film he was fully able to convey what he wanted to convey as a film. For he feels that it's a story in many different shapes and hints of emotions that have been present since the moment he wanted to be a director.
Professor Zovek (played by pro wrestler Latin Lover) is based on a real person, an entertainer and escape artist sometimes called "the Mexican Houdini". The character is first seen on a TV screen performing a strongman bit on a variety show, but later appears as the teacher at the training camp.
Alfonso Cuarón initially was going to make a "Darwinian Adam and Eve" story, which was a family drama set either 50,000 or 100,000 years ago, before Roma. However, when Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, heard the pitch and told him to make something more personal along the lines of Y Tu Mamá También (2001), Cuarón veered away.
One of three foreign language films to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in the same year, the other two being Cold War (2018) and Werk ohne Autor (2018). This is the first time in Oscar history that three out of the five nominees were foreign films. All three films were also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
First film to be distributed primarily by a streaming service (Netflix) to be nominated for and win in the major categories at the Golden Globes, including Best Foreign Film (win), Best Director (win) and Best Screenplay.
On November 1, 2016, the crew of Roma (2018) was the target of a robbery. According to the studio, "two women were hit, five crew members were hospitalized, and cellphones, wallets, and jewelry were stolen" during the attack. The crew reportedly arrived to set up filming for the day when a group of city workers approached the crew and tried to shut down filming. The crew stated they had permission to film, but the workers persisted and a brawl broke out between the groups.
First film to be distributed primarily by a streaming service (Netflix) to be nominated for and win in the major categories at the BAFTA Film Awards, including Best Film (win), Best Director (win), Best Foreign Film (win), and Best Original Screenplay.
According to official call sheets, Galo Olivares was listed as Director of Photography alongside with Alfonso Cuarón from day 1 to day 108. Galo Olivares was later just credited as Camera Operator / Cinematography collaborator.
Alfonso Cuarón claimed that Yalitza Aparicio did not want to be present for Jorge Antonio Guerrero's nude scene, so he filmed one shot of Guerrero in the nude, and a reaction shot in which Aparicio is watching Guerrero perform while wearing briefs. To match the two shots, a body double for Aparicio's hand was used. Cuarón pointed out that it is the only time in the film that there is intercutting between reverse angles, necessary to accommodate filming the two actors separately.
One of the main avenues of México City called Insurgentes in the corner with Baja California st. where the out of the cinema night scene takes place, was recreated in a studio, the corner has changed with the pass of the years, so Cuaron prefer to make a set to represent it exactly as it was, including comercial locations and the name of the cinema that doesn't exist anymore.
The 91st Academy Awards marked the first time since the AMPAS eliminated the black-and-white cinematography category in 1967, that two such movies were nominated in the Best Cinematography category namely, Cold War (2018) and Roma (2018), the latter winning the Oscar (Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, February 24, 2019).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Yalitza Aparicio met Libo, the person Cleo was based on, at first, Libo never told Aparicio anything about her life that was going to happen in the film, only things that happened to her before the film starts. So after the birth scene, Aparicio cried non-stop.
The song that the character Ove Larsen (Kjartan Halvorsen), dressed as a pagan forest monster, sings at the end of the fire scene is a nostalgic Norwegian song, which may be used for the Nyttårsbukk "trick or treat" ritual on New Year's Eve. Kjartan Halvorsen has said that he suggested the song choice. He is a professor in Mexico City and was recruited for the film at a party at the Norwegian embassy.
The last scene of Roma as written in the screenplay: "The patio, in shadows now, floats in the afternoon quiet. Borras sleeps and the parakeets are quiet. Only the hum of the city in the distance. Cleo comes out of the kitchen carrying her load of dirty laundry and crosses the tiny patio to go up the metal staircase that leads to the roof. Her steps reverberate throughout the bony structure in a metallic moan that echoes through the tiny patio, waking the caged birds. Cleo reaches the step in front of her room and keeps walking upwards. A sweet potato vendor lets out his sad howl in the distance. Step by step, Cleo ascends. Yet further up, beyond the roof, the sky is pure."
The movie depicts "El Halconazo," or the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971, in the scene where Cleo and Teresa go to the furniture store to buy a crib. The government sent CIA-trained Mexican soldiers to repress a student protest. At first, the soldiers charged the students with kendo sticks, like the ones Fermin and his group are training with, but they escalated to using firearms and killing the students. The government claimed the attackers were students to discredit their movement. Cuarón rehearsed the scene for weeks with all the extras on a football field.
Even though the special effects work in Roma is virtually invisible, the majority of the film involves some degree of visual effects work. For instance, the extended tracking shot when the family's housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), watches the family's kids at the beach as they charge into the water, then rushes into the pounding waves when two of the smaller children appear to be struggling. Cuarón presents the sequence as if it is one uninterrupted shot. But to achieve that appearance, several shots had to be stitched together and the whole setting digitally manipulated. Several different takes of Cleo rescuing the children were involved, and some takes of the children were re-positioned. Certain views of the sky also were replaced. Cuarón also requested that the height of the water be adjusted so that it would look deeper. In effect, Cuarón was following in the footsteps of his frequent cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who filmed Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) as if the entire movie were filmed in one continuous take. Throughout the film, other digital tweaks were made. The neighborhood surrounding the family's home required a lot of blue-screen work to eliminate any modern sights and to extend the street on which the home sits into the distance.
Guillermo del Toro, who is a vocal fan of Roma, shared his "10 personal musings about Roma" on his twitter page which are: "(1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined -momentarily- and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in Roma are revealed by water. (2) These planes of existence, like the separation within classes in the household cannot be broached. The moments the family comes 'closer' are fleeting... 'She saved our lives' is promptly followed by 'Can you make me a banana shake?' (3) In my view, Cleo's 'silence' is used as a tool for her dramatic arch- that leads to her most intimate pain being revealed, by water - again- after the Ocean rescue: 'I didn't want her to be born'. Cleo surpasses and holds her emotions in silence until they finally pour out. (4) One key moment, precisely crafted is Cuarón's choice to have Cleo's water break just as the violence explodes and her boyfriend breaks into the store holding both a gun and a 'Love Is...' T shirt. The baby will be stillborn. (5) In every sense, Roma is a Fresco, a Mural, not a portrait. Not only the way it is lensed but the way it 'scrolls' with long lateral dollies. The audio visual information (context, social unrest, factions & politics / morals of the time) exists within the frame to be read. (6) It seems to me that the fact that Cuarón and Eugenio Caballero built several blocks (!) of Mexico City in a giant backlot (sidewalk, lampposts, stores, asphalted streets, etc) is not well-known. This is a titanic achievement. (7) The Class stratas are represented in the film not only in the family but within the family and the land-owning relatives and even between Fermin and Cleo- when he insults her in the practice field. (8) Roma cyphers much of its filmic storytelling through image and sound. When viewed in a theatre, it has one of the most dynamic surround mixes. Subtle but precise. (9) Everything is cyclical. That's why Pepe remembers past lives in which he has belonged to different classes, different professions. Things come and go- life, solidarity, love. In our loneliness we can only embrace oh, so briefly by the sea. (10) The final image rhymes perfectly with the opening. Once again, earth and heaven. Only Cleo can transit between both. Like she demonstrates in the Zovek scene, only she has grace. We open the film looking down, we close looking up- but the sky, the plane, is always far away."
In the scene where Cleo is in a furniture store to shop for a crib and has an encounter with her former lover Fermín, his shirt has one of the famous 'Love is...' cartoons on it. Being a meaningful and emotional costume choice in reference to their relationship, it reads 'amor es... recordar tu primer beso' ('Love is... remembering your first kiss').
On New Years Eve, Benita takes Cleo to a small restaurant/bar where there is a lot of celebrating going on. She convinces her it won't hurt the baby if she has just one drink. Then Benita toasts, "To a beautiful 1971 and your baby's health." As Cleo goes to take a sip, the mug is knocked out of her hand, and it smashes to pieces on the floor. This foreshadows that neither of Benita's toasts would come true. 1971 brought "El Halconazo," or the Corpus Christi Massacre, which is depicted later in the scene when Cleo is shopping for a crib. And of course, Cleo's baby would be stillborn.
The two abandonments in the film are juxtaposed and parallel. In one scene, Antonio leaves home, claiming he will only be away for a few weeks. (As we later discover, he is abandoning his family.) In the very next scene, Fermín walks out on Cleo in the cinema, claiming he is only going to the bathroom. Likewise, it soon becomes clear he has abandoned her with the unborn child he fathered.
For Alfonso Cuarón, in the scene where the father enters the house with his car in such a maneuver, like very being precise and taking so much care and detail, was a symbol in itself. The car is the symbol of a crown and the precision in filming this entrance announces that the king has arrived. The car also becomes a symbol of the presence of the man. Likewise the reason why the mom, Sofia, crashes the car, is not necessarily because she is a bad driver, it's because what that car means.
The last shot of the scene with the violent protests is of a woman holding what appears to be her dead boyfriend. This pose is exactly like that of Michelangelo's "Pietas." This same pose is also in Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men (2006).
The film has several nods to Cuarón's earlier work. The film-within-a-film that features two astronauts (Marooned (1969)) is very similar to Gravity (2013). The childbirth scene is somewhat similar to the childbirth scene in Children of Men (2006), with both scenes generating suspense about whether the newborn will survive. And the scene in which the mother tells her children that their father has abandoned the family is set in an outdoor beachside bar nearly identical to the one near the end of Y Tu Mamá También (2001).
The credits end by displaying the words "Shantih Shantih Shantih." Children of Men (2006) featured this mantra in its dialogue, and its closing credits also ended with these words being displayed. Shanti Mantras always end with three utterances of word "Shanti" which means "Peace".
The closing credits of Roma ends with a mantra from Upanishads: "Shantih Shantih Shantih." It is a formal ending to an Upanishad. T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' also ends in Sanskrit: "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. / Shantih shantih shantih". Cleo M. Kearns, a modern literature scholar, analyzes the ending of the poem as such which may echo with the aesthetics of Roma: "As mantra, shantih conveys ... the peace inherent in its inner sound....As a closing prayer, shantih makes of what comes before it a communal as well as a private utterance....And as the 'formal ending of an Upanishad' it revises the whole poem from a statement of modern malaise into a sacred and prophetic discourse."
Alfonso Cuarón claimed that it took six takes to get the shot of Cleo rescuing the children at sea and that the take used in the film was the only one in which the shot wasn't ruined by the camera derailing off its track. After which they ran out of time. Cuarón was very frustrated having to wrap the scene with only one usable take.