Written by: Marco Ovies
Alfonso Cuarón delivers his most personal movie to date with Roma. The story revolves around Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker, who helps Antonio and Sofía take care of their four children in Roma, Mexico City. But problems arise when Antonio abandons his family for his mistress. Shortly after, Sofia decides to take the kids on vacation. Cleo, upon realising she’s pregnant from her boyfriend, is invited to the vacation to help clear her head.
Cuarón drew much inspiration from his own childhood to create this real and emotional portrayal of domestic strife and social hierarchy during the political turmoil of the 1970s. The film is not only a love letter to Cuarón’s nanny but also a personal story about growing up in Mexico City.
After directing 2013 blockbuster film Gravity starring Sandra Bullock, Roma is a very different story for Cuarón to take. Going from such a bright and CGI-heavy movie to a film shot entirely in black and white with no soundtrack is a large leap. But at no point does the film feel like it is lacking anything — Cuarón has managed to make the film feel alive all by itself. This amazing feat of the director however, could not have been achieved without the work of actress Yalitza Aparicio, who delivered a breathtaking performance. In her few lines, Aparicio shows so much. In the simplest actions, like a touch on the back or letting herself be a human cushion for two tired children, she exhibits such a genuine love for these children. She embodies this calming and slow-moving energy that any audience can connect with, reminding us of someone we loved in our childhood.
Throughout the movie, the natural slow-moving world is focused on prominently. Within the first shot, we see water flowing along the stones, while in the reflection of the water, we see the sky with a single airplane flying across. This may not be too striking of an image, but in reality, this first shot is rife with storytelling. Water, stone, and air: all reflect a natural flow of life, while also showing us a glimpse of the small in contrast with the large. This concept of the small in contrast with the large is a recurrent theme throughout the film. Most notably, the small personal story of a middle class family serves as the forefront for the much larger story being told about Roma as a whole.
Artistically, Cuarón has made a beautiful film with interesting cinematography. He never gives us a close up of these characters, but rather, leaves us space, letting the background speak for itself. As while the film is indeed about Cleo and this one small middle-class family, the background paints a picture revealing this one family reflects a larger story in the world around them. Overall, Roma is one of the best films of this year and arguably one of Cuarón’s best films to date.
Roma is available on Netflix and will play for free March 22 at SFU Burnaby Campus at 6 p.m. in the Images Theatre.