“Roma,” the touching black-and-white portrait of a domestic worker and the middle-class family she cares for in 1970s Mexico City, won the Oscar for best foreign language film Sunday, giving Mexico its long-sought first win in that category.
Director Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal film with dialogue in Spanish and Mixtec beat four other contenders that also told the stories of individuals and families facing tumultuous social and historical times. The Netflix-produced film ended the night with Oscars for Cuaron for best director and best cinematography.
“This award belongs to Mexico. It’s a Mexican film in every single front,” he told reporters after the ceremony. “It’s not that 95 percent of the crew was a Mexican crew, and the cast is 100 percent Mexican, but the thematic, the country, the landscape, everything is Mexico. This film doesn’t exist if it’s not for Mexico. I could not be here if it was not because of Mexico.”
“Roma,” which was inspired by Cuaron’s own youth, follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young indigenous woman who works devoutly for an affluent family that lives in the Roma neighborhood of the Mexican capital. But life inside the picture-perfect family is crumbling.
The film develops in the midst of the turmoil that rocked Mexico in the early ’70s, including the student demonstrations that in 1971 led to a massacre by a group backed by authorities. Society is fraying and the women of the house seem to take the brunt as they try to keep the family of four children afloat.
While the foreign language Oscar will go to Mexico’s film academy, it was also a night of personal triumph for Cuaron, who took home best director and best cinematography statuettes. “Roma” also competed for best picture, but lost out at the end of the night to “Green Book.”
Mexico has competed for the trophy eight other times, most recently in 2011 with “Biutiful” by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but had never won.
The other nominated films Sunday were Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski’s 20th-century romance “Cold War;” German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s artist biopic “Never Look Away;” Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s’s subtle family story “Shoplifters;” and “Capernaum,” a powerful neo-realist drama about a Syrian child refugee from Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki.
“I grew up watching foreign language films and learning so much from them and being inspired,” he said while clutching his statuette for this category on stage and crediting “Citizen Kane,” ”The Godfather” and other movies for inspiration. “When asked about in the book about the New Wave, Claude Chabrol said, ‘There are no waves, there’s only the ocean.’ I think that the nominees tonight have proven that we are part of the same ocean.”
The Mexican Institute of Cinematography tweeted praise for the win, including a virtual chant of “Mexico, Mexico, Mexico!”
“Roma” represented Cuaron’s return to Mexico as director since he made his international debut with “Y Tu Mama Tambien” in 2001, which earned him nominations for the Golden Globes and Oscars. His credits since then include “Great Expectations,” ”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Gravity.”