As an intensely personal, slow-moving foreign-language film shot in black-and-white and released on Netflix only weeks after its theatrical premiere, Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical 2018 film Roma defied Hollywood conventions and expectations, earning 10 Academy Award nominations and winning three. Drawn directly from the acclaimed director’s memories of growing up in the 1970s in Mexico City’s picturesque Colonia Roma, the film is essentially a love letter to Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, the indigenous Mixtec nanny who played a vital role in raising Cuarón and his siblings.
When it came to casting for the role of the nanny (named Cleo in the film), Cuarón conducted an exhaustive search, combing cities and villages throughout Mexico and ultimately finding 24-year-old school teacher Yalitza Aparicio in Oaxaca, the same state where Libo grew up. Furthering the on-screen authenticity, Cuarón cast Aparicio’s best friend Nancy García García as Cleo’s companion Adela. Taking an unorthodox approach reminiscent of Italian neorealism, Cuarón encouraged his cast of actors and non-actors to embody their characters without ever laying eyes on the script.
Although the film revisits a particularly trying time marked by heartbreak and loss, there’s an abundance of meditative beauty in Roma, thanks in no small part to Cuarón’s masterful turn as his own cinematographer. Not recommended for viewers with short attention spans, Cuarón’s cinematic memoir comes back to light in San Antonio this weekend via a free screening hosted by the Mexican Cultural Institute in celebration of International Woman’s Day and Women’s History Month.