“Roma” Movie Review


     Writer / Director Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” provides a gloriously detailed look at life growing up in early 1970s Mexico City, as the story is said to be based on the filmmaker’s own experiences and upbringing.  Shot by the director himself, Cuarón employs an endless array of gorgeous compositions, painstakingly creating a story within each and every wide angle frame that will merit analyzation and discussion in filmgoing circles for years to come. An all the more impressive accomplishment given the film is black and white and spoken in Spanish with English subtitles.  “Roma” is distributed by Netflix, which gave the film a one weekend awards qualifying run in theaters, but went on to debut the film using its own platform on December 14th, meaning you can stream Cuarón’s very personal creation right now.  Something I would highly recommend if you appreciate the artistic qualities of a great film.

     “Roma” tells the story of an upper middle class family in Mexico City, utilizing one of their two maids as the focal point of a turbulent time in both Mexico’s history, as well as the family’s.  Cleo, played with a quiet confidence by Yalitza Aparicio, works for Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a wife and husband whose household is comprised of their four young children, as well as Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Verónica García).  At first, the situation within the home is what you’d expect.  Cleo, along with her co-worker, Adela (Nancy García García), provide for the young children by cooking meals, getting them ready for school, and cleaning the home after everyone leaves for the day.  Cuarón spends an abundance of time ensuring these details are presented task by task, so as to communicate the monotonous daily routines each person in the home must endure in order to keep it afloat.

     Early on, Antonio, who is a medical doctor, leaves the family for a business trip to Quebec.  This puts an additional strain on his marriage to Sofia, who has already indicated her displeasure with the direction their family is heading.  As we watch Cleo and Adela calmly complete their bevy of chores, the story shifts to Cleo’s personal life, where we are introduced to her boyfriend, Fermín ( Jorge Antonio Guerrero), and the time they spend together.  Fermín is a dedicated martial artist who credits the arts as the means for surviving his tough upbringing in the slums.  His personality remains fiery and forceful, which is a stark contrast to the quiet and introverted Cleo.  In one of their dates at a movie theater, Cleo informs Fermín she has missed her period and may be pregnant, which sees him excuse himself to go to the restroom, never to be seen again.

     Fearing she may be fired, Cleo goes to Sofia for help, who takes her to her doctor, finding out shortly thereafter she is indeed three months pregnant.  But the family, who loves and often times treats Cleo as one of their own, embraces her situation, as we watch over the next nine months of her pregnancy how this new dynamic plays within an already hectic situation involving the family’s patriarch.  And it’s because of this, we barely see Antonio during the film as Sofia and Cleo seemingly hold the family together with outings to the movies (including 1969’s astronaut epic “Marooned” which was certainly a childhood inspiration for Cuarón’s Oscar winning film “Gravity”), as well as trips to the beach forging ways to ensure the children remain unaffected.  But many of us know how divorce will ultimately decimate everyone involved in some way, even when the group is as close knit as this one.

     Cuarón expertly moves his camera through each scene, utilizing long tracking shots and pans which reveal new information and background action even as the characters in the foreground remain as the center point.  A scene midway through in which Cleo and Teresa are shopping for a baby crib amidst a riot occurring outside in the street could only have been pulled off with a complete mastery of direction where crowd control, camera movement, and visual effects all play a key part in the tense sequence.  And there are plenty more within the film that will leave every filmmaker in complete awe, particularly a tracking shot in the finale in which the harrowing thought of a child in distress is brought to powerful life .  As much as “Roma” is a personal story for Cuarón, the film also stands as the cinematic equivalent of a lifetime’s worth of skill culminating in a work so impeccable that you’re left to simply watch and appreciate what is unfolding before your eyes.  There is no room for critique here.

     Many of the best films of the year will often share in common the fact they are, at their core, about the human condition.  What makes us do the things we do.  How do we respond to adversity?  Cleo, as a character study, doesn’t offer much when it comes to articulation or dialogue, but her actions and love for the family who employs her go beyond any words she could say.  There are no tense outbursts or moments of outward emotion that normally make up a fine acting performance. Instead, Aparicio plays Cleo with a muted sense of purpose and compassion for the people she cares about, an attribute lending to the countless number of moving and touching moments we are fortunate to witness.  And it’s Cuarón, an already accomplished filmmaker who through the telling of this story, is clearly saying thank you to the women in his life who played a powerful role in him becoming the person he is today.  GRADE: A