Production Designer Eugenio Caballero Rediscovers His Childhood in the Movie, “Roma”
By Victoria Gonzalez
“Roma” is loosely based on the life of Alfonso Cuarón, the film’s director, and his childhood live-in caretaker, who represents the struggles that middle class women went through at the time.
When it came time for Cuarón to select a production designer, Oscar winner Eugenio Caballero was a perfect fit. “My youngest memories were not that far from Alfonso’s,” Caballero said. “I really had the chance of speaking with friends and family that lived in those neighborhoods in that period of time.”
The movie is set in Mexico City during the early 1970s. That posed an enormous challenge for Caballero, whose job was to recreate locations from scratch to provide accurate depictions. Caballero searched his family photos and archives to find out more about how his life looked at the time. “I started recovering my own memories and the love to that city in which I grew up,” Caballero said.
The transformations not only consisted of virtual filming techniques but also physical ones for each of the characters. The cast was chosen to look similar to the indigenous people in the old photographs, right down to the extras appearing in the crowds.
An impactful moment in the film is Caballero’s recreation of the Corpus Christi massacre that killed hundreds of student protesters demanding democracy and fighting against oppression. The scene was shot over a two-day period in the exact location where the massacre occurred. “We had a number of extras and a number of stunts,” Caballero said. “They would rehearse in another place for two weeks, so it was choreographed and we adapted that to the streets.”
The film’s authenticity was enhanced by not giving scripts to the cast beforehand. The goal was to prevent them from learning lines, or knowing what happened next in a scene. Caballero took great interest in how the actors handled the situation. “Most of them were non-professional actors, so there was a lot of truth in their reactions,” Caballero said.
“Roma” is shot entirely in black and white. Cuarón’s vision for his movie was to make it different from any of his previous films. It was Caballero’s job to make that vision as vivid as possible. His nomination shows that he succeeded.