What is Alfonso Cuarón's 'Roma' About? The Oscar-Nominated Film Is a Runaway Success

It's a simple and moving story set in Mexico.

(Image credit: Image by Alfonso Cuarón/Espectáculos Fílmicos El Coyú)

Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón was already well-established, boasting films as diverse as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Gravity. But Cuarón has been more in the spotlight than ever for his acclaimed 2018 drama Roma, which has already won a ton of awards and boasts a whopping 10 Oscar nominations. That said, the critical success of Roma has been a slow burn, meaning you might not know as much about it as Oscar frontrunners like, say, Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, without diving too much into spoilers, let's talk about the broad strokes of the film, how it got made, and what might be in store for Cuarón and the film's actors.

It's semi-autobiographical.

In a Vanity Fair interview, Cuarón said that the character of Cleo is based on his real nanny growing up, who became part of his family.

"[90 percent] of the scenes come out of my memory. We shot in the places where these scenes took place. I gathered 70 percent of the furniture in my home...from different family members spread all around Mexico. And then I cast actors that look as much as possible as the original people."

It stars breakout actress Yalitza Aparicio.

Aparicio puts in a brilliant performance as an indigenous woman who works as a maid, Cleo, for a family in Mexico. Cuarón searched for almost a year before finding her.

Aparicio is herself indigenous, and Roma is her first movie. Considering that she's now Oscar-nominated—she's the first indigenous woman and the second Mexican woman to receive such an honor—her future looks bright.

It's a small, important story.

This film is designed not to be grand and sweeping, but to show one family's drama against the backdrop of tension. The movie features gorgeous scenery and important character moments, but it's also very pared-down. There are marital issues, an unplanned pregnancy, racial and cultural tensions, gun violence, and tragedy—but at its heart, it's about connection and family.

It's breathtaking.

Even The New York Times loved it. Manohla Dargis writes, "Cuarón uses one household on one street to open up a world, working on a panoramic scale often reserved for war stories, but with the sensibility of a personal diarist. It’s an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces, and a masterpiece."

It's award-winning.

Thus far, Roma has won many awards, including two Golden Globes (Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film) and four BAFTAs (Cuarón for Director and the film for Foreign Language, Cinematography, and Best Film). The film's ten Oscar nominations include Best Picture, Foreign Language Film, Screenplay, Cinematography, Best Actress for Aparicio, Best Supporting Actress for Marina de Tavira, and Best Director. 

Even if Roma doesn't win (which it's tipped to do for at least a few categories, FYI), we're going to see a lot of the film and its actors in the future. 

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Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.