+ Recommend – R, Drama (135 minutes)
Mexico City isn’t just part of the setting in director Alfonso Cuarón‘s latest picture, it’s part of the story. A living, breathing character complete with a sense of visceral atmosphere, it has just as much, if not more, history to uncover and explore narratively. It’s rich, detailed, and thought provoking. You’ll not only experience the city in the 1970s, you’ll live it.
Roma follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a house maid, who works for a high-class family. A protagonist, such as Cleo, allows the audience to assume a certain level of empathy without much context. As the lead, she’s just as much of an outsider to the family as the audience who is watching. Of course, there are moments where Cleo becomes much more than just a maid—mainly towards the end. But from the script’s solid foundation and the equally strong direction you can discern that, at the very least, she means the world to the children whom she attends to. For the most part, these are non-actors cast in roles that seem too ambitious for their level of talent but at every turn they prove otherwise.
What’s amazing about Roma, is the invisible direction and the personal touches that Cuarón mixes with the drama. Everything is unbelievably clean: from the cutting, to the camera angles, and even down to the perfectly contrasted black and white cinematography. Here, the technical aspects, while masterfully constructed, are supplemental to the story. We’re delighted to delicate frames, that pan and tilt to reveal the full scope of Cuarón’s vision; and the movement of the camera is static, for the most part. Many times, the framing is centered in any given room and will follow the characters about—highlighting the different qualities and allowing for the audience to gauge different family dynamics.
Yes, the first hour may prove too tedious for some. After all, the majority of Roma is spent studying the individual lives of this family, day-in and day-out. The reward received for being engaged for this extended period of time far outweighs the negative criticism for the amount of exposition. No, it won’t be for everyone but it will work, on some level, for people who love cinema regardless of their overall opinion. Sometimes a film is made so brilliantly that you can experience both style and substance; this is one of those.
You can find Roma on Netflix, but if you have the opportunity try and make it to a screening near you. Because after the first half it increases in intensity and you’re not going to want to miss out on that communal theatre experience. The exact nature of Roma, the kind of a slow-burn approach to storytelling, allows for more development—thus leading to more immersion both within the story, and the setting. Move your schedule around this weekend if you must.