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How Improvisation Shaped ‘Roma,’ ‘Shoplifters’ and Other Golden Globes Nominated Foreign Films

One of the most emotionally harrowing scenes of “Roma” almost turned out differently, and director Alfonso Cuaron said it was due to star Yalitza Aparicio’s improvised reaction. Toward the end of the film (spoiler alert), Cuaron had planned for Aparicio’s Cleo to reject seeing her stillborn baby in the hospital. But throughout filming, he never gave actors full scripts in order to elicit raw reactions, and thus Aparicio responded genuinely to the devastating news in the moment, and chose to see the child. He kept it that way in the final cut.

Ahead of the Golden Globes Awards on Sunday, the Mexican director spoke at the HFPA and the American Cinematheque’s Foreign Language Nominees Screening Series and Symposium, as part of the line-up of directors of the best foreign film nominees. Also present were Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Shoplifters” – Japan), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“Never Look Away” – Germany), Nadine Labaki (“Capernaum” – Lebanon), and Lukas Dhont (“Girl” – Belgium).

Other directors also used unconventional techniques when making their films: Kore-eda didn’t begin with an idea. Instead, he filmed the actors interacting naturally on the beach, and created a story based on that. Labaki said she didn’t give her actors scripts and often she didn’t know what they were going to shoot the next day, figuring things out along the way. Even though she spent four years doing research for the film, she said if filmmakers know their material well enough, they must allow themselves to be spontaneous.

“Organized chaos sometimes is so important for us, I think, as filmmakers. … there’s this element of surprise in life and in life you don’t know what’s going to come next,” she said. “This shouldn’t scare you, sometimes it’s even so much more interesting and more nurturing to you as a filmmaker to go with the flow and go with what life is giving you at that moment.”

Meher Tatna, President ofthe Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and directors Alfonso Cuaron of Mexico, Nadine Labaki of Lebanon, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck of Germany, Hirokazu Kore-eda of Japan, and Lukas Dhont and Sergei Rachlin.HFPA and American Cinematheque presents 2019 Golden Globe Foreign-Language Nominees Screening Series and Symposium Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2019
CREDIT: David Buchan/REX/Shutterstock

Labaki’s “Capernaum,” like many of the nominated foreign films, has themes centered around family and how the personal can become the political. “Capernaum” takes a personal drama, of a young child suing his negligent parents for leaving him out on the street, and highlights how parents and governments around the world have failed “a billion children” and allowed them to slip through the cracks.

“Governments and systems forget the sacred nature of a child, a child is not anything that you just bring in the world and you expect them to survive. We have to make this world a better place for them,” she said.

The inspiration for Dhont’s “Girl” was a transgender girl he met who wanted to be a classically trained dancer. One of his goals was to depict the supportive relationship she had with her father, especially given that parents of LGBT individuals are often portrayed in the media as “problematic figures.”

“I’m just excited about seeing LGBT cinema in which the relationships with the parents can be less problematic as they have been made before,” Dhont said. “If you look at a lot of young people who watch cinema or watch movies, and if those relationships with parents are represented as problematic, you take something from that.”

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