As I drifted off into a kind of cinematic trance after experiencing Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, one of my most prominent thoughts was why people were not talking about Marina de Tavira. I know, I know, Yalitza Aparicio was/is the talk of the town – the teacher turned Best Actress nominee. And as Cleo, the humble house help, the little actress with no acting background, has captured the hearts of many.
Non-actors in motion pictures, especially those with the widespread appeal of something like Roma, stand out like a sore thumb. Rarely do they enrapture audiences, fill the screen with such glory. Yalitza Aparicio certainly earns her breakthrough underdog status.
But once again, we were not talking about Marina de Tavira. While Cleo is the central character of the story, the one we are are asked to follow throughout, I found the nurturing mother and passed-over wife, Sofía, to be the beating heart of Roma.
“There’s such an admirable, spontaneous glow from de Tavira.”
You might think being the only bona fide actress in the cast is an advantage. Well, the training, a career on the Mexican stage, as well as several movies, certainly helps de Tavira. Except Cuarón didn’t want a big, brash performance: a star turn; someone to steal the scenes and swamp the story. A personal story for the director, writer, editor, cinematographer, candlestick maker.
Cuarón drifted back to his own childhood in Roma, with his dear mother and the nanny that helped raise him the focus of this journey. And the Academy Award winning filmmaker would turn himself inside out to get his beloved memories on the big screen. And you’ve seen the film. Dazzling in its crisp black and white photography; delicately touching in its humanity of these female characters; immaculately structured, paced storytelling.
And there we go again, not talking about Marina de Tavira. A sin, even in the multitude of movie drama, on and off screen, we’ve had in 2018. It was a daunting task for de Tavira, to almost wipe the acting slate clean, and conform to Cuarón’s aim to be as authentic as life itself. Is it harder to teach someone with no experience to act, or to slip professional feet into amateur shoes?
There’s such an admirable, spontaneous glow from de Tavira, in every scene she is in, that you’d be forgiven for thinking she too was a non-actor. And that’s a compliment. A huge one. A performance so naturalistic, emotive, and so much a part of Cuarón’s soulful tale, that Sofía feels like a real mother; a real wife; a real friend. There’s nothing in the training manual that can define that.
True, the director Cuarón was the captain of this ship. And his filmmaking methods here no doubt enhanced the main performances. His guardianship of the poignant material was drip-fed to the actresses. Staggering the showing of script pages; introducing his own dementia-suffering mother; having some of the children do impromptu actions to garner genuine reactions; not replaying footage of their scenes.
“In only a few scenes, her presence is infectious and affecting.”
Back to the wonderful Marina de Tavira. Playing Sofía, a middle-class woman in 1970s Mexico, the actress is inch-perfect. In only a few scenes, often well away from the camera, her presence is infectious and affecting. Sofía is a loving mother, a devoted wife, yet a somewhat fragile, sympathetic soul.
Sofía’s husband tends to spend more time away from his family, leaving an emotional void for the mother. A strong part of de Tavira’s compelling turn, is her ability to kind of keep up appearances, a brave face for all around her, while still showing glimmers of turmoil and sadness. Only in the moment when Sofía arrives home intoxicated, does she declare that she and Cleo, the women, are left alone, and must stick together. The heartache of that reality is so vivid, Sofía has to laugh.
And in a drama with such heavy themes as Roma, it’s remarkable that the film has a warm place for sprinkles of humour. And it is Marina de Tavira that provides much of it. I’m not talking rolling on the floor laughter, but the honest little moments. When Sofía casually quips that one child can’t have more food because they’ll get fat. A candid moment from many a dinner table.
Or the haphazard car-parking (mirroring the precision of the early manuevering from the husband). We see the damage to the side of the car when Sofía parks at the hospital, and she shrugs, hardly batting an eyelid. And the drive prior, de Tavira brings some hapless comic timing as she expressively attempts to anticipate another small gap between two vehicles. Her minor mishap there is shown in her apologetic, endearing gesture through the rear-view mirror.
Pretty much all the moments shared with Yalitza Aparicio’s Cleo are captivating. Their bond is an unbreakable one, even when an upset Sofía takes out her frustrations on Cleo. And that scene, when her husband leaves, wrapping her arms around him, clinging to him for dear life. Then sorrowfully watching him drive away amidst the contrasting melodies of a passing brass band. Extremely moving, and because we’ve invested in Sofía (and de Tavira) – perhaps before we even realise it ourselves.
“With uncertainty in the Best Supporting Actress race, Marina de Tavira is a good a bet as anyone.”
I mean, you can tell, I just want to talk about Marina de Tavira. The second time I sat and watched Roma was just for her. I know Joel Melendez screamed like a fangirl at an Elvis gig when we learned of Yalitza Aparicio’s Best Actress nomination. But believe me, my silence was of equal jubilation when the Supporting Actress names were announced.
With uncertainty in the Best Supporting Actress race, Marina de Tavira is a good a bet as anyone. The grand popularity of Roma is a terrific indicator. The actress pulls all the right strings, to give a performance of such humanity and impressionable poise. de Tavira not only drew from her own life (her own mother’s background and the social weight of divorce), but also brings an innate magmatism to the character of Sofía.
See Roma again, and watch Sofía’s joy when the father returns home. Or how she keeps it together, seemingly wrapping her arms around the entire family, during the divorce announcement. Her pensive face in a later scene when a young couple wed off in the background. Her concern for Cleo’s pregnancy news, and how she recoils into herself when reading her kid’s letter to the father. The burden-less smile she affords as they drive home from the beach. A beautiful supporting performance, one we must continue to talk about.