PHOTOGRAPHY BY LINDSAY LAUCKNER GUNDLOCK
After his 2001 breakout, Y Tu Mamá También, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón attended Hogwarts (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), survived dystopian England (Children of Men), and hurtled through space (Gravity, for which he won the Oscar for best director). “After those films, I had a need to make one not only in my language but, ultimately, about my own life,” Cuarón says. Seventeen years later, the director has come home with the semiautobiographical Roma(out now on Netflix), in which the personal dramas of an upper-middle-class family similar to his own play out against the broader societal upheaval of 1970s Mexico City.
For Cuarón, authenticity was key. “The street that you see is the street of my childhood,” he says of Calle Tepeji, a tree-lined block in the now-trendy titular neighborhood of Colonia Roma. For exterior shots, he chose a house across the street from his childhood home (which had been remodeled) and convinced the current owners to install a geometric driveway gate, which they decided to keep after filming ended. “When I was growing up, Roma was a very decadent neighborhood in decline,” Cuarón remembers. “Nevertheless, it was my bubble, my microcosm, the place in which my culture could be a football stadium and, at the same time, a jungle and a battlefield. It was a country and a universe—like childhood.”
For interiors, Cuarón and production designer Eugenio Caballero found another nearby house that was set to be demolished and went about recreating the director’s bygone residence from memory. “I recovered 70 percent of the furniture from different family members,” Cuarón says. Paintings on the wall that look like one of the children and the matriarch in the film are actually old portraits of Cuarón and his mother. He even filled drawers—ones that will never be opened or seen by the audience—with personal objects from his past.
While the film was shot in black-and-white, Cuarón diligently avoided turning it into a nostalgia trip. “When I came back to Roma, everything was filled with the past—everything is a comparison to what it is not anymore,” he says. “Back then, Roma was a place filled with the present—and the whole energy of the future ahead.”