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Alfonso Cuarón on the three Golden Globe nominations for his deeply personal 'Roma'

Alfonso Cuarón on the three Golden Globe nominations for his deeply personal 'Roma'
"Roma" director Alfonso Cuarón. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

An early frontrunner for best picture at next year’s Academy Awards, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” picked up three Golden Globe nominations Thursday morning, for foreign-language film and for Cuarón’s direction and screenplay.

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Cuarón’s poetic, black-and-white story of a middle-class Mexican family and their beloved live-in nanny is in limited theatrical release now before airing on Netflix starting Dec. 14.

The Times spoke with the director, whose previous films include “Y Tú Mama También,” “Children of Men” and “Gravity,” about the nominations, Netflix and the state of moviegoing.

Congratulations. Where are you and how did you get this news?

I’m in Italy. I got the news right after lunch. I checked my emails, and I turned to my son and I said, “Do you want to come to the Golden Globes?”

You’ve been nominated for Globes before, and you won the directing award for “Gravity.” But does it feel any different this time because this movie is so personal to you?

Well, it has been a very surprising ride because when you do something so specific, you don’t think that it’s really going to have this intense emotional response. What is very gratifying and very surprising is how in different places in the world, the emotional response is so strong to the film. And this makes me happy because it’s a reminder that the human experience is one and the same, that we are pretty much the same.

When we spoke at the Telluride Film Festival in September, the buzz around the movie was already strong and it’s only snowballed from there. Obviously it’s hard to tell for sure because Netflix doesn’t report box-office figures, but every indication is that the movie has been doing well in theaters. I know there have been specific issues like with exhibitors in Mexico, but in general have you been happy with the theatrical push?

Well, it’s been fantastic because I think I’m having a greater theatrical rollout than if I had gone with a quote-unquote “conventional” route. Remember that the film was not an easy sell. It’s a Mexican film in black-and-white and in Spanish. So it’s been so gratifying to hear all the reports of all these sold-out theaters both in the U.S. and in Mexico and now in Italy. And it’s exciting how in Mexico more and more independent theaters are joining to the circuit of wanting to release the film.

Are you getting box-office numbers from Netflix?

No, I don’t get the numbers, but it’s something similar because I get the reports from the people in charge of the theaters — not in terms of numbers, but just knowing the occupancy – and it’s been mostly 100%.

Alfonso Cuarón, left, and Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma."
Alfonso Cuarón, left, and Yalitza Aparicio on the set of "Roma." (Carlos Somonte / Netflix via Associated Press)

Some people were disappointed not to see the lead actresses, Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, nominated. At Telluride, you told me that without them, there wouldn’t be a movie. Obviously there will be more awards to come, but how does it feel for you to see them overlooked this time?

Well, I’m saddened, yes, but at the same time, Yalitza and Marina are the heartbeat of the film, with nominations or no nominations, awards or no awards. Any nominations that the film can have is only a nomination that is thanks to that heartbeat.

For months, there’s been speculation that “Roma” could deliver Netflix its first best-picture nomination at the Academy Awards. If that were to happen, what do you think it would say about where they are as a company and where the film industry as a whole is right now?

Well, I don’t know if I have an answer to those questions because those are industry questions that are far away from the endeavor of filmmaking. Those questions relate more to business and media than actual filmmaking. All I can say from that standpoint is I just hope that all these models can come into a balance, because I believe that things can coexist.

I believe in the theatrical experience. I don’t believe in impositions, but I believe in options and I believe that audiences must have the option to see the films in theaters. And I believe that the natural place to watch films, at least certain kinds of films, is in the communal experience of a cinema. Nevertheless, I also recognize that there are other approaches. You try to respect that those universes can coexist — and I think that they should coexist.

I think it’s more a matter of positioning because if the theaters are being sold out and next week the movie is opening in the [streaming] platform, that means that, yes, those models can coexist. One thing is not going to take away the business from the other. I doubt that putting the film in theaters is going to make users of the platform not see the film, and I doubt that having the film in the platform is going to make the people that are cinema lovers and film lovers stop going to the theaters.

"BlacKkKlansman" director Spike Lee and "Roma" director Alfonso Cuaron lament the decline of cinema on the big screen.
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