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Alfonso Cuaron, reliving his childhood in black and white

Agence France-Presse
Alfonso Cuaron, reliving his childhood in black and white
Alfonso Cuaron

Alfonso Cuaron, who just won three Oscars, owes much of his success to his 10-year-old self.

Cuaron turned 10 in 1971, a turbulent, formative year in the Mexican filmmaker’s life, as he depicts it in “Roma,” the widely hailed, semi-autobiographical film that won statuettes for best director, best cinematography and best foreign language film.

“Being here doesn’t get old,” Cuaron told the audience at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.

“This award belongs to Mexico. It’s a Mexican film on every single front.”

Cuaron has now won Academy Awards with his past two movies, both of which mined the creative material of his childhood – albeit in very different ways.

The 10-year-old Cuaron wanted to be an astronaut, a dream he returned to in 2013 with “Gravity.” That film that won him his first Oscar, for best director – the first ever Latin American to claim the honor – and best film editing.

Five years later, Cuaron again returned to his childhood – this time, the reality instead of the fantasy.

Set in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, filmed in black and white, and written in Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language, Cuaron’s latest movie is a hauntingly intimate portrait of a tumultuous year in the lives of his family, their nanny and Mexico itself.

Known as a consummate craftsman, Cuaron, 57, meticulously recreated his childhood neighborhood and home for the film.

Aside from its technical mastery, however, “Roma” could hardly be more different from “Gravity,” a 3D outer-space blockbuster that starred George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

Cuaron’s latest film has no Hollywood stars and a cast of mainly novice actors.

“When I finished my last film, I promised myself the next one would be something more simple and personal,” Cuaron said when “Roma” was released.

“I realized this was the moment when I could finally return to Mexico to make a movie, with all the resources, tools and techniques I’d acquired over the years.”

Triumphant homecoming

“Roma” tells the story of the two women who raised Cuaron: his mother, who is in the process of separating from his father, and his nanny, a young indigenous woman dealing with her own unplanned pregnancy while caring for the crumbling family that employs her.

“There comes a time in your life when you want to understand who you are, starting at the beginning,” Cuaron told AFP at the film’s Los Angeles premiere.

Cuaron’s mother, Cristina Orozco, is the one who gave him his first movie camera, two years after the events in the film. That is when his astronaut dreams started to give way to an all-consuming interest in making movies.

Cuaron went on to enroll at the film studies institute at Mexico’s largest university, UNAM, only to drop out a year shy of graduating.

He got a job as an assistant director, then landed funding to make a feature film of his own, “Solo con Tu Pareja,” in 1991. It won a series of prizes at film festivals and helped Cuaron get his foot in the door in Hollywood.

His breakout success came in 2001, with “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” a wild but widely acclaimed road movie and coming-of-age story.

That led to a job directing “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), the third installment in the massively successful franchise, and later “Children of Men” (2006) and “Gravity.”

“Roma” is the first film he has made in Mexico since “Y Tu Mama Tambien” – a triumphant homecoming after winning both critical acclaim and box office success in Hollywood. It earned 10 nominations overall.

Political overtones

Cuaron’s win was laden with political overtones in the Mexico-bashing era of US President Donald Trump.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has positively fallen in love with Mexican directors in recent years.

Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – the so-called “Three Amigos” – have won the best director Oscar in five of the past six years.

After winning best film at Britain’s BAFTA awards, Cuaron alluded to the political symbolism of a border-crossing Mexican making it in Hollywood on his own terms.

The film’s success “in an age where fear and anger are proposed to divide us means the world to me,” he said.

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