The bedazzling piece of existential, personal cinema, that Alfonso Cuaron serves in “Roma”, marks one of the most unique films of the year.
The story in “Roma” revolves around Cleo, a maid who works for an upper-class Mexican family. Her entire life is dedicated to raising the children of Mr and Mrs. Sofia. Through her eyes, Alfonso Cuaron rediscovers the 70s in Mexico, painting an in-depth look at the country’s society.
I’ll be brutally honest – although Cuaron has been a household name for quite some time now, I’ve never been flabbergasted by any of his works. While I understood the love for his cinematic sensitivity, which was so powerful in both “Gravity” and “Children of Men”, the final results were always lacking in depth and auteurism.
In “Roma”, the Mexican director has dispelled these doubts to me.
The secret sauce in this black-and-white feature is the magnificent camerawork.
Cuaron is extremely pedantic. He lavishes care on each one of the shots, turning image into his most essential storytelling tool. As if contemplating a painting in museum, Cuaron moves the camera slightly and slowly, revealing the entire canvas of every scene. In more dynamic moments, the swiftness of the lenses captures the business and noisiness of the Mexican streets.
Cuaron complements the image with an incredible sound design. From street vendors shouting in the background to the most minute, as if to say insubstantial sounds, this entire audiovisual artwork amazes and lets the viewer immerse in the film completely.
The discreteness of Cuaron’s direction is his ace up the sleeve.
Leaving the technicalities aside, “Roma” paints a broad canvas of the Mexican society.
Interestingly, Cuaron sustains the dreamlike atmosphere of the film and constructs the story from pieces – recollections and situations that seem to be scenes engraved in the director’s memory. However, it’s far from a chaotic collage (as a flashback-based story may often suggest).
Cleo, the protagonist of “Roma”, serves a silent, withdrawn guide, but she fits the image flawlessly. Her genuine humbleness strikes balance with the noisy streets, the pumped-up arguments and kids constantly fooling around. She is lonely in the crowd, she is silent on the noisiest day.
Cuaron wouldn’t be successful if not for the role of Yalitza Aparicio. The Mexican actress enraptures throughout the entire film thanks to the deep understanding of her character. Cleo doesn’t ask for much – she wants to have her own family but the closest she gets to it is Mrs. Sofia and her kids. There are moments, when Cleo’s life is devastating and in the electrifying direction of Cuaron, heavy punches hurt twice as much.
Cleo is part of the painstakingly painted contrast, robust enough to discuss the social differences and political turbulences in the 70s Mexico. Cleo visits cities and villages, participates in parades and witnesses historic events like the rise of violence in the rural Mexico or protests against violence that led to a massacre (following the instability after 1968’s student “uprising”). Cuaron captures all of the paradoxes of the nation kept in years-long regime – its love for festivity, its economic downfall and growing class disparities.
I think that the best scene to describe “Roma” takes place in the last half an hour of the fim. Mrs. Sofia sits with her kids on the bench, all eating ice-cream in silence. Cleo stands right next to them, observing the broken family but yet still craving to experience the same. In the background, mariachis play a wedding song and guests are all cheering.
In the end, “Roma” is a sensitive, evocative poem – gentle and embracing in form, thoughtful in its narrative. Alfonso Cuaron shows the rare ability to point me towards light, even in the densest of darkness in “Roma”. I can only wish my own memoirs where seen through such magnificent lenses.
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Hate Grade: 2/10