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,” 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 in 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, supporting each other, and take care of their children. Men are unaccountable, 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.

What "Roma" doesn’t tell you is 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 as well.

Furthermore, those actions by the students don't justify the killing of more than a hundred people by the government in the "Corpus Christy Massacre" depicted in the film, when Cleo and the grandmother entered in 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. 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” takes place in the amount of time 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 are taking place. 

In the “Colonia Roma,” people pass by without stopping. Their destination could be the Zócalo perhaps, 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. Cuarón himself 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 an unintended reminiscent of the Golden Age of the Mexican Cinema.

Building the sets was a complicated process because it was not easy 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 capture the specific political moments in the story adequately.
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: 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 is a reference to “Amores Perros.”

Those fun-to-watch passages are easy to identify 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 of the Italian Neorealistic Period. The black-and-white epic has no music score, the songs are incidental. They come out of 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 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, who was a simple kindergarten teacher at the time.
Yalitza Aparicio, Kindergarten Teacher. Festival in LA.
Yalitza said, “It was a real life-time experience to work with Alfonso Cuarón.”And she was fortunate to meet Cuarón's real 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 her 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 presence of 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 real--- that is why he did not give the entire script to any of the 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 the way the film looks but for the way it makes us feel.

“Roma” is a significant accomplishment not only for all the talented people who participated in the making but also for Alfonso Cuarón, who deserves the glory in the Parthenon of the most visionary directors in Contemporary Cinema.
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Festival in LA ©2019

“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 once 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 bigger than his will.
Peter Hedges, writer/director
Photo Jose Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA
We had an engaging conversation at the LA Film School with the writer/director Peter Hedges. He discussed with many aspirant writers and filmmakers the importance to find that story you love because if you dig into it, there is something underneath worth to tell.

When Hedges’ mother was dying of cancer, he was inspired to write “Pieces of April,” his first feature. At that time, Mr. Hedges wrote the 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, his fourth feature, Mr. Hedges wanted to stop people dying of O.D. in America. 

"Ben is Back" is a remarkable film promoting 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 that is killing our youth.

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

For the director, working with both Julia and his son Lucas was a thrill. 

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

In this emotional, character-driven rollercoaster, 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 drugs epidemic in America are “Beautiful Boy” with the great performances of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell. “Winter’s Bone” directed by Debra Granik, with Jennifer Lawrence, a movie that goes straight to the drugs 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, especially the young. 

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

Without Oscar pedigree, “Ben is Back” is an essential film to open up the conversation of 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 treatment of drug-addiction patients 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 the “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 she was 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 the age of 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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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

For more information about the Academy Events, please visit

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