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“Roma:” Alfonso Cuarón and the Meaning of Memory

"Thanks to Cuarón’s own remarkable 65mm cinematography, it feels as if the filmmaker is writing his memoirs with moving images."

With Roma, an artful love letter to the women who raised him, director Alfonso Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst Mexico’s political turmoil of the 1970s.

Roma, explains Josh Rottenberg, “follows a year in the life of a middle-class family and its nanny, Cleo, chronicling the dramas, small and large, that at times fray their relationships and the love that binds them together.”

“Ninety percent of the scenes represented in the film are scenes taken out of my memory,” Cuarón tells Zach Scharf. “Sometimes directly, sometimes a bit more obliquely. It’s about a moment of time that shaped me, but also a moment of time that shaped a country. It was the beginning of a long transition in Mexico.” To read the full interview, click here.

Making the film, the director tells Rottenberg, “was a matter of coming to terms with the conflict between my present and the past. Because in the process there was a constant tension: I’m trying to portray those memories but through the prism of my understanding of today.” To read the full article, click here.

“I’d been used to a certain way of narrative thinking in cinema—the narrative safety nets of genre, and a very conventional structure,” Cuarón tells Eric Kohn. “In this one, I had to use tools that usually were handled by my narrative muscles. I had to be more free about how my consciousness was dictating what would be or not be there.” To read the full article, click here.

From the very first shot, writes David Fear, “a close-up of a floor in a hallway, the sound of soapy water splashing in the background before washing over the tiles—you can sense that something special is about to happen. It’s not just the lack of opening fanfare in the soundtrack as the art deco credits roll (there will be no score; the only music you’ll hear will be the occasional song drifting out of a radio and the cacophonic symphony of street life). It’s not just the black-and-white cinematography, which lends the moment a monochromatic gravitas from the get-go.

“No, it’s the fact that the filmmaker starts his lengthy look back at the environment that nurtured him with a gorgeous but quotidian visual and lets it sit there for close to two minutes, allowing you to soak in every wet aural whoosh, every soap bubble and spidery crack in the ground.” To read the full article, click here.

“Blessed with an exceptionally acute sensitivity to the things of life, Roma is a memory film of unusual beauty that pushes to the foreground what is commonly left in the background,” writes Todd McCarthy.

“Memory can be subject but it can also be objective,” the director tells Scott Roxborough. “I was interested to observe those moments at a distance without a judging eye, not allowing the camera to interfere.”

“An immersive bath in some of the most luxuriantly beautiful black-and-white images you’ve ever seen,” McCarthy continues, “this is the work of a great filmmaker who exhibits absolute control and confidence in what he’s doing.” To read the full article, click here.

“Thanks to Cuarón’s own remarkable 65mm cinematography, it feels as if the filmmaker is writing his memoirs with moving images,” says Eric Kohn.

“Cuarón opted for the large-format Alexa 65 digital camera rather than celluloid,” reports Kristopher Tapley. “It was, of course, a purposeful decision.

“It could not be a nostalgic, old-school black and white,” the director tells Tapley. “If this is a film that’s a look at the past through the prism of the present—from my understanding now—it needed to be contemporary: pristine, not grainy.”

“Cuarón made the bold, experimental choice of shooting in color with the Alexa 65, but then sculpting in black-and-white like a photo-realistic painter,” explains Bill Desowitz.

“The result [is] a cinematic masterstroke, as the director meticulously recreated the past through stream of consciousness recollections of his family, his house, and his neighborhood during the turbulent ’70s in Mexico City.”

“There is a tendency to use digital to create a filmic look, and I have done this, but, on this one, we didn’t want to emulate film, we wanted to embrace digital,” Cuarón tells Desowitz. “The amazing dynamic range and resolution, the crisp, grain-less quality, I wanted to be unapologetic. And to be able to do the layering and have these amazing backgrounds with a combination of wide angles with shudders closed, more like what the eye would see.” To read the full article, click here.

“For this film pretty much everything was in my head,” Cuarón tells Peter Caranicas. “Images were already in my memory. I was just bringing new detail to those images. Working with the actors was the same. Nobody had the screenplay but me.

“I would give written dialog to just a couple of actors separately, never as a group. Then I would give separate indications personally to each character, and all of that information was contradictory. So when we started rolling it was chaos.” To read the full article, click here.

“I didn’t want the actors or even the crew to have preconceptions or defined answers,” Cuarón tells Jake Coyle. “It was a process for everyone to be constantly searching. I was just honoring moments—the sense of time and space in those moments, but also honoring the emotional elements of those moments.”

Roma assembles its narrative out of small moments,” Kohn continues, “as the director’s camera pans slowly through various scenes to soak in the distinctive locale, while dispensing tidbits of story details from unlikely places.” To read the full review, click here.

“It’s a rare experience to feel as if you are almost intruding on a film, Webb concludes, “and oddly one that compels you to engage with it even more.”

“Cuarón is such a free-wheeling storyteller, the kind of screenwriter who likes to let the audience think they’re ahead of him before he goes off in another direction entirely,” writes Jason Bailey. “But this much can be said: after an opening half that meanders, pleasantly but sometimes aimlessly (or so it seems), he pulls the entire story, and every character inside it, into sharp focus with a pair of scenes that are stunningly heartrending.

“In those scenes—and throughout the film, and throughout all of his films—one marvels not just at the patience of his storytelling or the mastery of his technique,” Bailey continues, “though both are undeniable (his signature long takes have been so consumed by his overall style that they no longer call attention to themselves, and are felt more than seen).”