Depicting a year in the life of a high-class family in 1970’s Mexico told from the perspective of their housemaid, Roma plays like a love letter to the women who raise us. Although motherhood isn’t exactly a new idea writer/director Alfonso Cuaron has explored, (see Gravity, Children of Men, etc.) this is the first time he’s done so with this amount of grace and intimacy, most likely because this film is based so much off Cuaron’s own childhood.
Much has been discussed about the release strategy of Roma and how it might change the industry as the first big awards front-runner for distributor, Netflix. Although that conversation is certainly worth having and will most definitely have an impact on pop culture as we know it, I really only care to talk about the film at hand, simply because it is so extraordinary.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is an absorbing, grand and intimate epic that should be seen on something much bigger than your large flat screen at home.
Like an old-time classic that’s been dug up and remastered for modern audiences, this is the type of film audiences would flock to see decades ago in 70mm Cinerama.
The thing that separates Roma from most 70mm spectacles of the era is the use of spectacle. Every shot is so meticulously crafted, yet comes across as natural. Cuaron captures all aspects of life with breathtaking intimacy. At times it’s beautiful and haunting; mesmerizing and sad.
Using his grand, epic scope, Cuaron brings us in closer to the characters. By having the shots so wide and long, we feel as small as we would if we stood outside and gazed at the stars.
A big aspect in feeling so small is the rich and textured sound design. I was fortunate enough to see Roma in Dolby Atmos sound and numerous times it felt like the characters were right behind my shoulder. Rarely have I seen a film make such exciting use of sound from every day aspects of life; water drips with pulsating clarity, the engines of cars from around the block come and go like they would in person, even the dog barking sounds exciting. The sound design feels more real than the outside world we actually inhabit. This film has as much a beating heart as its characters.
Roma finds Cuaron truly fulfilling his artistic ambitions. More so than films like Gravity or Children of Men, Roma manages to be a film of great scale and ambition, but at it’s core, still tell a story about a woman and the family she cares for.
Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio stars as Cleo in what is a star-making performance. Like the filmmaking, her performance is very natural, but layered with raw emotion and nuance. Her grace and warmth flourishes throughout the film which makes some of the more distressing sequences with her character, that much more painful.
At times, it also feels like Cuaron is reflecting back at his own filmography, with several sequences visually referencing his other films. It’s clear from the beginning, this is Cuaron’s most personal film to date, despite its epic scope and grandeur presentation.
Roma is a unique, emotional and powerful experience. It’s a shame Netflix has given this such a brief theatrical window because there’s really no other way to view this than on the big screen. It’s a masterpiece on all levels that is sure to become a classic in years to come.