The success of Roma, which garnered 10 Oscar nominations in the 91st Academy Awards, has made a star out of one of the movie’s key protagonists: the Mexico City neighbourhood that gave the movie its name. Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who sumptuously shot it in black and white, the movie is set in the 1970s in the Mexico City neighbourhood where he grew up, La Roma – today a magnet for film-buff tourists seeking the modern-day, full-colour version.
The ’Hood that Bounced Back
The neighbourhood Cuarón depicts as an upper-middle-class bastion of spacious art-deco houses and fancy chrome-clad cars fell on hard times when it was devastated by a 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people in Mexico City. But its central location and leafy streets helped bring it back, and today it is a hipster paradise of trendy bars, cafes, restaurants and shops.
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One of those streets, in particular, has drawn an unprecedented flow of tourists since Roma came out, according to residents: Tepeji Street, where Cuarón grew up and meticulously recreated his boyhood home for the film. Outside number 22 Tepeji, a newly installed metal plaque informs visitors: “This is where Roma was filmed, 2016-2017.”
“We loved the movie. It captivated us from the first moment. We decided to come see the house in person,” said Esteban Alvarez, 27, a musician from Costa Rica who was making the pilgrimage with his girlfriend. They have joined a stream of tourists and journalists hunting for the locations where the highly autobiographical film was shot – Tlaxcala Street, the busy intersection of Insurgentes and Baja California, the kindergarten where Cuarón went to school.
There is even a guidebook for people trying to retrace the film’s steps, while Condé Nast Traveler published an article to help tourists find “Mexico City Airbnbs that Could Have Been in Roma.”
Art Imitating Life
Roma is an intimate portrait of the two women who raised Cuarón: his nanny, played by breakout indigenous star Yalitza Aparicio, and his mother, played by actress Marina de Tavira – both up for Oscars.
Die-hard fans will be keen to know that number 22 Tepeji is not, in fact, the house where Cuarón grew up. His family lived across the street, in number 21. The identical buildings were constructed in the 1930s. But Cuarón’s house was remodelled by subsequent owners, so he opted for the one opposite. Cuarón has said that production designer Eugenio Caballero did such a good job recreating his childhood home that his family felt like they were inside the real thing when they visited the set.
As visitors gathered outside number 22 one recent afternoon, Paulina Cruz slipped outside number 21 to walk the dog. Cruz is a domestic worker employed by the family that lives in Cuarón’s old house. “I’m the nanny for the kids who live here now,” she said with a smile. With her dark sunglasses and jeans, she looked little like Cleo, the meek nanny in Roma. She said she loved the movie. “I was happy to see them give an important role to the domestic workers,” she said. “Just like in the movie, we really do grow very close to the families we work for, especially the children. Spending every day with them, they start to feel like family.” Living in the house where Cuarón grew up, she added, “is very cool.”
The owner of the house where the film was shot is Gloria Monreal, who said with a grin that turning her home over to the production team for several months was “a party.” Far from resenting the stream of tourists outside her front door, she said she was “very happy” to chat with them and pose for pictures. She even invites them to sign a guest book. “I thought it would be nice to have all these lovely people write about what the film meant to them and give it to Alfonso as a gift,” said Monreal, who knew Cuarón as a boy.
Nearby is Tlaxcala Street, where Cuarón attended the Condesa kindergarten as a child. “I have such fond memories of it I want it to be in my movie,” the director told teacher Victoria Pantoja, the granddaughter of the school’s founder, when he visited. The production team spent more than a month recreating the red facade of the 1970s, the slide and the rest of the playground. Pantoja, 32, hopes Cuarón will visit again. When he came to shoot the movie, the teachers were so star-struck that “nobody remembered to ask for a picture with him,” she said with a laugh.
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