Telluride: Alfonso Cuaron on His "90 Percent Autobiographical" Film 'Roma'

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Alfonso Cuaron

As he was received a tribute at the Rocky Mountain film festival, the director also revealed advice he got from his friend Guillermo del Toro.

“This film is as autobiographical as I can be,” said Alfonso Cuaron, speaking of his new movie, Roma. Cuaron, the Oscar-winning director of Gravity, was feted Friday night with a Silver Medallion tribute at the Telluride Film Festival, where he was interviewed by Vanity Fair’s Rebecca Keegan before his picture screened at the Palm Theatre. 

“Ninety percent comes out of my memory,” he continued. “We shot in the places where the scenes took place. I gathered 70 percent of the original furniture in my home from different family members all around Mexico, and then I cast actors that looked as much as possible like the original people.”

Roma tells the story of a family dealing with a parental split-up in 1970s Mexico City, seen through the eyes of the nanny who binds them together, even as she has to face her own problems. Yalitza Aparicio, who plays Cleo, the nanny, was present, along with Marina de Tavira, who plays Cuaron’s fictionalized mother. 

In real life, said Cuaron, Cleo “was the domestic worker/nanny in the home, part of our family, and obviously the other character is based on my mom. The interesting thing for me in this process was [that] your loved ones, you take for granted; you don’t really give them an individuality — your mom is your mom, the last thing you want to do is [find out] about the sexual life of your mom!”

Regarding his preparation of the script, he added: “I had extensive conversations with the real-life Cleo. Writing her character, I was forced for the first time in my life to see her as a woman [and to see] the complexities of her situation — a woman that comes from a more disadvantaged social class, that also comes from an indigenous heritage in a society that is ridden by class — and, in the Third World, there is a very perverse relationship between class and race.”

Cuaron also discussed his early work (“I took a very long, many times arduous path”) and the conflicts he had in Mexico that led him to seek opportunities in Hollywood (“I burned my bridges there,” he said of his homeland). Speaking of his Great Expectations, Cuaron said that disappointing picture had led him to a sort of existential crisis, when he decided he had to return to work that mattered more to him personally; renting 25 movies, he watched them back to back before calling his brother and writing Y Tu Mama Tambien with him.

Cuaron noted that his close friend Guillermo del Toro had forced him to accept a movie he was on the point of turning down: Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban. “I spoke to Guillermo,” he recalled. “He said, ‘Have you read the books? You fucking Skinny [his nickname for Cuaron]! You’re so fucking arrogant! You’re going to go to the bookstore and read the books and call me right away.’ I read the first two and was halfway through the third and I called him and said, ‘Well, the material is really great.’ He said, ‘You see, fucking…!’ That’s how it happened.”