Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio
There’s a sense of nobility that comes from a director who, after years of (quality) blockbusters and high-budget octane thrillers chooses to return to his native land to make a cinematic tribute to his family’s maid. Even if Roma isn’t your kind of movie, its hard not to appreciate such a gesture. At the end the final subtitle we see is “For Libo.” I can only imagine how this housemaid felt seeing her name at the end of such a masterful production. Like a classic by Fellini or De Sica or Ozu, this film is more concerned with portraying the mood and beats of a simpler way of living, and gives less regard to climaxes and thrilling plot points.
That’s not to suggest that nothing happens in Roma, however. We witness the painful endurances of a wealthy family’s servant, Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutierrez, played naturalistically by the 25-year-old Yalitza Aparicio, who, comically enough, wasn’t planning on auditioning, but was chosen from thousands of women to play someone who is gently navigating her twentysomething life. She cares for the children of Sofia and Antonio, a couple on the verge of collapse as Antonio becomes indifferent to his home life. She has a boyfriend, whose similar indifference is revealed shortly after her own pregnancy. Nobody’s life seems together and nobody seems content; but there is a small scene that suggests Cleo has more peace of mind than anyone else in the narrative, in spite of the world around her. There’s a war going on in Mexico at the time, but the chaos won’t interfere with Cleo’s psyche.
Roma consists of a black-and-white color scheme and stark cinematography, highlighting every detailed nuance of every building. This is a film that deserves to be seen in theaters, but since its limited release has run its course, those reading this are encouraged to watch it on Netflix, on a large screen, in the dark. There are many lengthy tracking shots that involve the camera moving lazily from side to side, like a weary-eyed onlooker whose doesn’t care about the story so much, as much of an observer as we are. There is also lovely scenery and well-composed photographic shots that make up the backdrop of Roma. The single best shot of this film involves Cleo walking into the water during a beach scene that, in a way, could be considered to be the climax. There are two scenes that garnered Aparicio her nomination, and this is one of them. The acting mostly consists of people appearing to play themselves. Kids will be kids, and thankfully none of these kids do a bad job. Cleo is only in her twenties but she looks older, the years of the impoverished life scarred on her face. The first shot is that of a tile floor that Cleo is running water onto. As the water streaks over it, we see the reflection of a window, possibly a symbol of personal freedom. But the water streams away, and so does the reflection, as if Cleo’s personal freedoms are always just out of reach.
This film is apparently autobiographical towards Cuaron’s own upbringing. Cuaron has proven time and again that he is a true visionary and perfectionist at his craft, so its no surprise that with the proper budget and critical validation he would take the route of an auteur. Some people will find this story to be overlong, maybe react similar to the way some reacted to Paterson, complaining about the lack of story. I can understand this, but it’s hard to not to respect a film when a director bares his soul to his audience, in such a way that I haven’t seen in many modern films. And simultaneously, I do pity those who see nothing in films like Roma. With components like tragedy, heartbreak, love, and war, it certainly has the makings of a great film; it’s the realism and lack of resolution that realism has that makes them uncomfortable.