Written and Directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nancy García García, Verónica García, Andy Cortés, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza, and Latin Lover
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Roma is being touted as the soul-bearing, most personal project to date from the undeniably godlike filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón; it’s heartbreaking, emotionally charged with the strength of an earthquake (which is saying something, considering the film contains a literal earthquake), and a masterful achievement in cinematography with unparalleled sound design (those tidal waves at the end will have you feeling like you’re drowning underwater), that is likely dedicated to any single, working mother (or female in general) and the things they do for their beloved children, related by blood or not. It may start out slightly slow, but by the end, the themes, the beautiful panned back shots of Mexico City, the breathtaking and insanely long tracking shots, and about three or four scenes that are guaranteed to make anyone with a pulse shed some tears, it’s clear something unforgettable and deeply mesmerizing has washed over you.
It all starts with first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio settling into the role of Cleo (based off of the real-life nanny that helped raise this phenomenal filmmaker with unlimited, original talent), who is gently introduced to us by a calming vignette of water splashing over the middle-class home she cleans. Slowly but surely, we realize that she is good with the kids, doesn’t mind cleaning up dog feces, generally is hard-working and comforting, but that her boss Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is going through some friction with her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), who is on the verge of leaving. For those wondering, his oh so morally sound plan is to claim he’s on an extended business trip throughout the holiday season despite deeply loving his offspring. Obviously, it’s a crock, paving the way for two women harboring indomitable spiritual strength. “You must remain strong for the children”, grandma says.
To non-history buffs or those not of Mexican heritage, I’m assuming that some of this (even with some brief television and radio clips mildly explaining the political turmoil devastating the sanctity of the peaceful city) might come across a bit vague, but so is the beauty of Roma. At one point there are riots outside of a city store, to which Alfonso Cuarón frames from inside, pivoting around to the glass windows, subsequently allowing us to survey the carnage laying waste to both buildings and innocent civilians. It is a stunning sequence that encourages one to further research history; there’s just enough knowledge given and the exact right amount withheld so that our focus is squarely fixated on these powerful women. It also has to be said, that this is only maybe the fifth most mind-blowing piece of cinematography in the entire film; the ending is truly astonishing. Shame on anyone actually watches Roma on a freaking tablet or some other home streaming device (unless you have absolutely no logistical way of doing so, then you are forgiven).
Once again, emotional devastation lurks around every corner of this lyrically composed character portrait; while off-duty Cleo is trying her luck on the dating scene, hanging out with a mutual friend of her partner nanny’s boyfriend, a seemingly mentally damaged man obsessed with karate (there are long, unbroken shots showing off such skills, set to a comedic tone that reveals itself as a stroke of brilliance as the film goes on). In a naïve and unfortunate incident of eliciting too much trust, the 18-year-old Cleo engages in sexual intercourse with the stud, who promptly walks out of a movie theater falsely reassuring her that he will be coming back, immediately upon being broken the news. This is also another one of the uncountable, heart-ripping scenes within Roma; bring the damn tears for this one (you know, because once again, shame on you if you have the ability to watch this in the theater and choose not to).
In terms of how much time has elapsed, Roma is vague and forces the viewer to be attenttive to the various stages of pregnancy, but it also doesn’t matter. Once the film gets going (it should also be noted that while the first 30 minutes a relatively quiet, there is also serenity and just as much intrigue. The first act is actually what I can’t wait to rewatch most), Alfonso Cuarón deftly has a handle on believably throwing these characters through the ringer; even the most intense moments are never overexaggerated. These people are real, and Yalitza Aparicio is a force of nature, quite literally at one point. Her reserved and understated performance, alongside the depth of her character, is extraordinary.
As uncountable as the incredible number of beguilingly complicated and gorgeous moments of sweeping cinematography are up there with the amount of times her performance will make anyone cry. More than just a tribute to Alfonso Cuarón’s own gracious and endlessly caring nanny, Roma is a towering celebration of the most remarkable traits of women. If you thought space would be his crowning achievement in terms of visual and auditory flair, think again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com