Sometimes you come away from a movie thinking, “Yeah, I really enjoyed that.” Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is not one of those films, instead I came away full of the wonderful feeling of pure joy gifted to us by the very best of cinema, almost overwhelmed that something had reached into me and left an indelible mark.
Cuarón’s film, making its debut on Netflix, is based on the director’s memories of his childhood, but rather than a direct translation of the director as a child the story is instead told through the eyes of the domestic worker who raised him.
Yalitza Aparacio, a complete newcomer to cinema discovered through a year of casting calls across Mexico, plays Cleo, one of two women who help run an upper middle-class household in the neighbourhood of Roma, in Mexico City, and the film follows her through events taking place in 1970 and 1971.
And really, plot-wise, there’s not much else to tell you, except to say that over the course of two hours and fifteen minutes, Cuarón weaves cinematic magic with a steady pace and a simple, direct and deeply emotional story. To say more would be to spoil the slow-burn pleasure of watching the lives of the members of the household unfold before you.
Cuarón, his own cinematographer (as well as writer and producer), ravishes the senses with almost every gorgeously-composed shot, filling the black & white frame with detail, movement and life, allowing Aparacio’s remarkable and honest performance to quietly simmer and make us feel every ounce of the pain and joy she experiences. Her character is swept along by events both personal and external, and the actress conveys a huge amount with minimal dialogue.
In fact, so magically ethereal is Roma, that it could very nearly be told as a silent movie, its emotional reach raw and potent. What Roma “lacks” in dialogue it more than makes up for with sound, featuring no musical score but a densely layered soundscape from the world the story inhabits: from planes roaring overhead to barking dogs and marching street bands.
I watched this at home on Netflix, but I cannot recommend highly enough also seeing this at a cinema (and I will take the earliest opportunity to treat myself) as this is undoubtedly one of the most profoundly powerful films of 2018.
Roma is simply beautiful and brilliant.