Friday, January 25, 2019

Roma: Anarchy and Repression in an Epic B&W Mexican Drama

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“Roma” Anarchy and Repression in an Epic B&W Mexican Drama- Festival in LA ©2019 Netflix

“Roma” is a film of extraordinary beauty, endless poetry, and a strict humanistic, sociological, and political approach. 

This exceptional black-and-white Mexican drama reaches universality when we discover its emotional layers beneath the compelling story.

Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood memories center on the importance of “place” and “time,” two of the most conclusive elements to appreciate the true meaning of “Roma.”

In “Roma,” women are portrayed as brave, fearless, and lonely. They look out for themselves, support each other, and care for their children. Men are unaccountable, and their infidelity, irresponsibilities, and ever-present machismo push them out of the picture.

Roma, Netflix screening at the Academy. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio is remarkable, playing Cleo, “Roma’s” central character.

She is the nanny for four kids: a little girl and three young boys, of which Alfonso is the hard-headed middle child. The little one is Carlos, the one with a vivid imagination, also an Oscar nominee filmmaker.

Cleo has an affair with Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). He and hundreds of other trainees are young counter-fighters skilled by an American CIA agent and a Korean trainer. They are hired to brutally repress the leftist rioting students.

“Roma” doesn’t tell you that in 1971, right after the Olympic Games Mexico 68 and the 1970 Soccer World Cup, Mexico City was on the verge of anarchy. 

The protesters are depicted in the film as “victims.” And yet, these alleged victims were also breaking the law, beating-up business owners, patrons, and workers - stealing, looting, scrawling graffiti, and hurting innocent people.

Furthermore, those actions by the students don’t justify the government’s killing of more than a hundred people in the “Corpus Christy Massacre,” depicted in the film, when Cleo and the grandmother enter the furniture store to buy the baby’s cradle.
“Roma” tries to set Mexican history right but fails to show both sides of the “tortilla.”

Alfonso Cuarón’s personal political agenda accuses and points subtle fingers using subliminal symbolism. 

The propaganda elements give the appropriate atmosphere to the film. But even these are open to interpretation, and many witnesses of those tumultuous times can relate to the events differently.

Most of Cuarón’s films are encapsulated in “time frames.For instance, “Gravity” occurs when a shuttle does one lap orbiting around the Earth. While in “Roma,” the time frame elapses during Cleo’s nine months of pregnancy.

At the beginning of this essay, we spoke about the importance of “place,” not precisely physically at any given location but as a transitional arena where the events occur. 

In the “Colonia Roma,” people pass by without stopping. Perhaps their destination could be the Zócalo, but we are not supposed to know that. That is why the framing of the film is purposely narrowed.
Alfonso Cuarón working in Roma behind the scenes ©2019 Netflix.

The cinematography of “Roma” is breathtaking, and Cuarón took care of the camera. Besides the beauty and emotional impact, other stories are told in the background through its plethoric symbolism. 

The luminous black-and-white photography is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

Building the sets was complicated because it took work to recreate 1971 Mexico City accurately. The area was destroyed by two major earthquakes over the years.

Production designer and Oscar© winner Eugenio Caballero (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “A Monster Calls”) also grew up in Cuarón’s neighborhood. The long pre-production included exhaustive research to adequately capture the specific political moments in the story.

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Roma ©2019 Netflix

It is fascinating to identify the scenes referring to the films produced by Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Cuarón himself (“The Three Amigos”).

Example: the extended scene where Cleo enters the sea to rescue little Sofi--- similar to the one where Maribel Verdú goes into the water in “Y tu mamá también.” 

Another example: is the European guy inside the costume at the party in the woods; it is a tribute to “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

Finally, the dog “El Borras” escaping the house references “Amores Perros.”

Those fun-to-watch passages are easily identified for their perfect recreation and camera direction by Cuarón’s impetuous eye.

Roma behind the scenes ©2019 Netflix

This autobiographical feature set in the 1970s has influences from the Italian Neorealistic Period. The black-and-white epic has no music score, and the songs are incidental and come out on the radio or TV. And those songs set in motion the characters’ mood. 

The sound is an essential part of the film. Those sounds give the climactic moments a hyper-realistic effect and a lively sensation of experiencing the events that connect them with nature, like the earthquake and the ocean waves.
Roma’s real family members and the actors who played them.

“Roma’s” Casting Directors searched vigorously to find people who physically and emotionally resembled the original family. 

They went as far as Tlaxiaco in the southern state of Oaxaca to discover the lead actress Yalitza Aparicio, a simple kindergarten teacher at the time.
Yalitza Aparicio, Kindergarten Teacher. Festival in LA.

Yalitza said, “It was a real-life experience to work with Alfonso Cuarón.” And she was fortunate to meet Cuarón’s honest nanny, Libo.

Before the film shoot, the two women talked voraciously about their roots. Both women had come out of an indigenous, marginalized community. 

“Libo is a woman with a big heart,” Yalitza said. “I wished to honor her life with my performance, for Libo gave her work and heart to the Cuarón Family.”

In the most awarded film of the year, the audience cares for every character without sugar-coating their emotions.

The film has elements of magic realism. The famous Professor Zovek (an actor named Latin Lover) standing on one leg brings moments of humor.

Latin Lover as Professor Zovek in Roma ©2019 Netflix

For the director, “Roma” is a corridor full of memories. Cuarón wanted to keep it accurate, so he did not give the entire script to any actors or crew members. He wanted realistic reactions and the actors to concentrate on the family’s journey spontaneously.

Roma behind the scenes ©2019 Netflix

The Academy® Award-winning director said, “The events depicted in ‘Roma’ have repercussions in present-time where hate and exclusion show the vulnerability of the human race.”

The Golden Lion winner also reminds us: “When we are watching a movie, spectators have the same experience; they open their senses and relate to the story. It is part of human nature.” He added: “The diversity of colors is the richness of our society.” 

For many critics, including myself, “Roma” is the best movie of the year, not only for how the film looks but also for how it makes us feel.

“Roma” is a significant accomplishment for all the talented people who participated in the making and for Alfonso Cuarón, who deserves the glory in the Parthenon of the most visionary directors in Contemporary Cinema.

Ben is Back: So is Julia Roberts - Fighting for Her Son in America's Opium Crisis

By José Alberto Hermosillo
Ben is Back, poster courtesy of Roadside Attractions ©2018.

“Ben is Back,” a heartfelt movie that humanizes the drug-addiction crisis in America and the struggle families have -  genuinely revealing.

A drug-addict teen named Ben, terrifically played by Lucas Hedges (“Boy Erased,” “Lady Bird”), unexpectedly shows up to join his family for Christmas. His young sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is in a defensive mood - she knows he will cause trouble even though he is again out of rehab.

Ben is Back, poster. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

The mother, Holly Burns, Julia Roberts, will stand by her son no matter what.

Ben unintentionally places his family in danger because of his previous debts. He wants to set the record straight but denies that the temptation is more significant than his will.
Peter Hedges, writer/director
Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

We had an engaging conversation with the writer/director Peter Hedges at the LA Film School. He discussed with many aspirant writers and filmmakers the importance of finding that story you love because if you dig into it, there is something underneath worth telling.

When Hedges’ mother died of cancer, he was inspired to write “Pieces of April,” his first feature. At that time, Mr. Hedges wrote a story about one of the most significant people in his life. This passion was entirely about his project, his dream, and his mother.

Ben is Back, still courtesy of Roadside Attractions ©2018.

In this Mr. Hedges’ fourth feature, he wanted to stop people from dying of O.D. in America. “Ben is Back” is a remarkable film that promotes a significant change in our society. 

Mr. Hedges’ goal was to make a movie that could reach as many people as possible and create consciousness about the invisible danger of killing our youth.

In his own words, “Drug is a faceless antagonist.”

Working with Julia and his son Lucas was a thrill for the director. 

It was easy to get Julia Roberts on board. Great actresses want to play great characters.

In this emotional, character-driven roller-coaster, Ben’s previous lifestyle drives him back to the drug dealers. Unknowingly, he endangers his family. The mother’s unbreakable bond won’t let her son go stoically.

Other contemporary films addressing the drug epidemic in America are “Beautiful Boy,” with the outstanding performances of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell. “Winter’s Bone,” directed by Debra Granik with Jennifer Lawrence, is a movie that goes straight to drug production, distribution, and the violent burning in our society. 

Those films show how addiction is not fun anymore. The situation is worsening every day - and the authorities don’t do enough to prevent, treat, and rehabilitate people in desperate need, mostly the young. 

Julia Roberts hasn’t been that remarkable since “Erin Brockovich.” Young actor Lucas Hedges is passionate about his craft.

Without Oscar's pedigree, “Ben is Back” is an essential film to open up the conversation about illegal drugs in America. 

Besides the dangers of the drug dealing experience, the insightful film emphasizes the importance of family integration and inclusion as part of the drug-addiction patients’ treatment to overcome the obscure scourge in our modern-day society.

Film critic Jose Hermosillo, writer/director Peter Hedges ©2019 Festival in LA

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Emmanuel Lubezki Shoots the Vanity Fair "Diversity" Cover and Makes History in Hollywood in 2019

By José Alberto Hermosillo
Hollywood Vanity Fair Cover ©2019 Vanity Fair

It took decades for Vanity Fair to have a “Diversity” Cover like this and make history in Hollywood - a fanciful effort made up by the new faces of young and talented people working in Hollywood and around the World.

The work of the great Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is magic, pure gold. Congratulations on this excellent work of art.

Hollywood Vanity Fair Cover ©2019 Vanity Fair

The diverse talent in front of the camera is integrated by:

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma.”
Chadwick Boseman, “Black Panther.”
Timothée Chalamet, “Beautiful Boy.”
Elizabeth Debicki, “Widows.”
Henry Golding, “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Nicholas Hoult, “The Favorite.”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Saoirse Ronan, “Mary Queen of Scots.”
Tessa Thompson, “Sorry to Bother You.”
John David Washington, “BlacKkKlansman.”

It is always fascinating to know a little more about the lives of the stars. 

Starting with the new Superhero Chadwick Boseman from “Black Panther.” He was a terrific basketball player and graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C. Destiny got him close to Denzel Washington, who paid his tuition at the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford University in London.

The star of “Roma,” Yalitza Aparicio, was a kindergarten teacher when she got the part while accompanying her pregnant sister to the auditions in her hometown in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico. Aparicio’s natural performance earned her a surprising Best Actress Oscar nomination.

The story of Henry Golding is fascinating as well. He was born in Betong, Sarawak, Malaysia, and went to Surrey, England, at age eight. He returned to Kuala Lumpur, where he started his acting career as a host of a top-notch travel TV show. Then he got cast to play this multi-millionaire in the box-office smash “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Often, Vanity Fair has photoshoots of models from different backgrounds. In this Hollywood historical issue, the fashion-forward magazine had a diverse group of Oscar-nominated actors and Golden Globe winners in front of the lenses of one of the best photographers in the World.

The 25th Hollywood Issue - Moving Pictures was photographed by three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki and styled by Samira Nasr.

For more on those shining stars, visit: 

The Hollywood Cover - Moving Pictures

The 2019 Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue Cover


Behind the Scenes of Vanity Fair’s 2019 Hollywood Issue Cover Shoot

Emmanuel Lubezki, director of photography. Eight times Oscar-nominee and three times Oscar-Winner, Best Cinematography. His outstanding work includes #Gravity #Birdman #TheRevenant. A Little Princess, Sleepy Hollow, A New World. Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Knight of Cups, Like Water for Chocolate, Ambar, Bandidos, Miroslava, Sólo con tu Pareja, Y tu mamá también, Meet Joe Black, A Walk in the Clouds, The Bird Cage,  Reality Bites, Alí, Burn After Reading. Things You Can Tell Just by Looking At Her, Great Expectations.
Film critic José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019

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“Roma” An Unprecedented Best Picture Nomination for a Movie in Spanish
The Best Movies of 2018 - Festival in LA
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Friday, January 18, 2019


Pink-Slipped Lecture. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
January 17, 2019. The Film Scholars Lecture Series took place at the Academy with "Pink Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries" at the Linwood Dunn Theater in the heart of Hollywood, California.
Pink-Slipped Program. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
In the lecture, we saw some great short films of groundbreaking female filmmakers during the silent film era and questions why that representation faded over the century.

Professor Gaines discussed some magnificent silent shorts, including
Camille. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
The Girl Spy Before Vicksburg (1910),
The New Love and the Old (1912),
The Diver (1913),
The Roads That Should Lead Home (1913),
Fedora (1916).
Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
 Jane M. Gaines. Academy Film Scholar. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

Jane M. Gaines is a professor of film at Columbia University and Professor Emerita of Literature and English at Duke University. 
Pink-Slipped Book by Jane M. Gaines. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
The title of some of her books: “Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice, and the Law” and “Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent Era.

She is the recipient of an Academy Film Scholars' grant for “Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries?”
I firmly believe that the professor’s studies should include a section about the production of films by women in other countries. 
Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
We still need to know why, in other countries, the gender gap is not so notorious as it is in Hollywood. France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina have a significant number of compelling women directors. while in the United States they have to work harder to get represented in the white-male-dominated film industry.
Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
Academy Reception. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
Academy Reception. Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

Film critic Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA

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