There are a million ways to begin describing a film, but one can only begin describing Roma by calling it one of, if not THE best film of the year. Following the huge critical and commercial success of 2013’s Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón returns with a love letter to Mexico that pays homage to the everyday, ordinary citizens from his childhood. Glazed with gorgeous black and white cinematography, Roma is an astounding achievement from one of the most talented directors of our generation.
At the core of Roma is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid of mixed race heritage who serves a middle class family in the Roma district of Mexico City. She is soon acquainted with the vainglorious Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), and they begin a troubled affair.
As a martial arts enthusiast, Fermin is keen to show off his skills but he reacts furiously when Cleo reveals to him that she is pregnant with his child. The dynamic between Cleo and other characters are also explored with much depth but she is clearly loved by the children she helps raise, as well as by her employer Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Sofia is also an important character as she navigates a separation from her husband whilst trying to remain a good mother to her four children. Cuarón invites us to explore intimate moments with the film’s characters and the results are devastatingly cathartic.
It was a shock when Netflix announced that they intended to allow cinemas to screen the film, but after a huge success at Venice Film Festival, it would have been a bigger surprise if the streaming service chose to ostracise Cuarón’s masterpiece. Indeed, the film deserves to be seen in a cinema on a large screen so that audiences can further appreciate those fine details and panoramic shots of suburban Mexico City. All the characters in the film are given the chance to express themselves interiorly and it is the deafening silence of certain scenes which provide the most meaningful commentary. There are clever juxtapositions throughout the film, such as when New Year’s Eve revellers go from celebrating the festivities to battling a forest fire. We are brought back to feeling a sense of harmony when our attention is turned to a man lamenting the last seconds of 1970 in a Brechtian manner whilst quietly singing a Mexican song.
Many popular films today generate hype from multi-million dollar budget effects, but Roma builds itself from a foundation of bitterly raw honesty and a deep sense of humility. Cuarón steers his audience around the memory and we see through the omniscient author’s eyes a feeling of guilt that he is carried through adulthood. The stoic centricity of Yalitza Aparicio’s performance makes her a key breakout star of 2018. As an untrained actress with no prior acting experience, Aparicio is extraordinary, displaying an immeasurable amount of vigour in her portrayal of Cleo. Cuarón dedicated his film to Libo, his real life childhood nanny, who today recalls the Oscar-winning director as a mischievous boy who “just didn’t behave”. Whilst the director never makes it explicitly clear that Roma is an autobiographical piece, he has not denied that the making of the film involved reflecting upon the tribulations of his childhood and a yearning for forgiveness for the past.
After winning the Golden Lion at Venice and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, it should not be a surprise that the film went on to collect 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. There had been much speculation over whether or not the Academy would take this moment to award Roma with its top prize, making history as the first foreign language film to do so. Sadly, this was not to be but Roma still received the BAFTA and Critics Choice for Best Picture so it would be a safe assumption that the vote was close and we can be certain that Roma will continue to strike a unique chord with audiences.
By Carlos Tseng