Director Alfonso Cuarón has built up a short but well-received filmography over the years, with some of the most thought-provoking and dense movies in the early part of the new century. This week he brings his talents to Netflix with his most personal project to date, Roma.
Based on Cuarón’s own childhood, the story takes place in the Mexico City of the early 1970s, following Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid who works for a middle class family in the city. Sofia (Marina de Tavira), the woman she works for, is having problems in her marriage but she and Cleo become closer, all of that set against the backdrop of protests, fires and other issues in and around the city.
The first poster shows two kids looking up at the sky while laying on top of a building. The second shows a group of kids in a huddle. Both play up the movie’s festival appearances and tout its coming debut on Netflix. They’re stark but effective, striking the same tone as the trailers.
The first teaser, released around the time the news broke that it was Venice-bound, didn’t offer much in the way of anything, serving more as an announcement than actual trailer.
In mid-August the full trailer was released. Featuring no dialogue, character introductions or other explanations, the focus is instead on the visuals, which are incredibly powerful. Cuaron is touted via on-screen text as a visionary director and his previous movies are name-dropped. But the main appeal is what seems to be a very simple, emotional story that is also clearly personal to the director.
There’s still no dialogue, just a Pink Floyd song, in the official trailer from mid-November, but we get the same idea, that we are going to enter the world of working class Mexico City to see what life there is like.
Online and Social
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Pre-roll ads were run on YouTube and some promoted posts shared on Twitter. Other online ads used key art and video snippets, while the key art was also used for outdoor ads in select locations like L.A. and New York City.
Media and Publicity
Some of the first buzz around the movie had an unfortunate twist. Almost simultaneously it was picked up by Netflix – that company’s latest deal with a high-profile artistic-minded director – and that it was getting caught up in the dispute between Netflix and the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival.
It was scheduled to premiere there but with Cannes saying it wouldn’t screen movies not receiving theatrical distribution and Netflix saying it was boycotting the festival, the movie’s future seemed uncertain. It was, though, announced as among those appearing at the Venice Film Festival as well as the New York Film Festival.
In advance of Venice, Cuarón talked about not only the movie but how and why he came to work with Netflix and what it meant for his movie, though he also mentioned the company would be giving it some form of theatrical run, likely to qualify for awards consideration. That was followed by reports a limited release in theaters was being considered, notably one that would come in advance of the movie appearing on the streaming service.
Those reports were confirmed at the same time Cuarón admitted it was good something like Netflix existed, otherwise movies like this would have a hard time connecting with any sizable audience. Later reporting confirmed that Netflix’s desire to move into awards contention, which brought with it a need to appeal to major filmmakers, is powering this altered approach.
It would make another festival stop at Telluride and then at the Lumiere Festival, where Cuaron talked about many of the same topics he’d hit previously. Actress Yalitza Aparicio was interviewed about playing a real woman with a connection to the director while Cuaron spoke about revisiting the Mexico City he grew up in.
It eventually was revealed that Netflix would give it not just a theatrical release but an exclusive pre-streaming theatrical release. That wasn’t the end of the story, though, as some theaters balked at the technical and other requirements Netflix imposed on exhibition.
As those theatrical showings were happening the movie scored a Best Picture win from the New York Film Critics Circle, giving it a nice boost. The accolades continued with praise for the film coming from no less a source than director Pedro Almodovar and then a best picture win from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Aparicio was interviewed again about how she became involved with the film.
The campaign is less interested in selling the specifics of the story than it is with communicating the overall feel of the movie, sharing the stark black and white visuals and the emotional tone. So the actual marketing part of the campaign is somewhat vague, positioning this very much as what might traditionally be called an “art film.” That’s reinforced by Netflix giving the movie the same festival circuit treatment usually seen for such films.
Meanwhile the publicity elements have almost universally focused on the personal nature of the story for Cuarón and how it’s him telling a story very relevant to him. That’s been the subject not only of the interviews with the director himself but also with stars like Aparicio.