'Roma' Review: Alfonso’s Cuarón’s masterpiece is a cinematic achievement

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Tanmay Shukla

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Roma, Alfonso’s Cuarón, Mexico

It is not often that a new film leaves me speechless, it usually happens when I pick a title from the all time greats list. However, it happened last year when I saw Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, and it has happened again with Roma. Alfonso Cuarón having already made great films like Children of Men and Gravity comes back after five years with his most personal film, Roma, which is without a doubt a masterpiece.

Roma opens with the camera pointed downwards, at the tiled floor which is slowly washed over by water and soap, over and over again as the title sequence rolls in. I wonder if Alfonso had the foresight that his film was also going to do the same with his audience, swamping them with unfeigned emotions.

Roma revolves around a functional family in 1970s which gradually becomes dysfunctional. Antonio is a doctor in Mexico City with a beautiful wife and four lovely young children. The movie is not about them exactly. It closely looks at one of their maids, Cleo. This is what separates Roma, makes it novel and an audacious attempt. Where other films would pay attention on the owners, Cuarón finds a hero in a maid.

Sofia is the mother, played by Marina Di Tavera. Antonio runs off with his mistress. Fermin who shows off his martial arts skills to impress Cleo leaves her when he learns she is pregnant with his child. Sofia announces one night when she is inebriated: “Women are always alone.” No matter where they come from and what their status is they share this one, important similarity.

Cleo, played by Yaritza Aparicio is a kind, shy, sincere and a brave woman. She and Adela (the other maid) take care of every work. Cleo loves the children and children love her too. She has a family in her village where she doesn’t want to go. She has people but in many ways she is alone. In one scene where she is playing dead, she says: “Hey, I like being dead.”

Technically too, Roma is flawless. It is shot in black and white and those compositions are outstanding. Cuarón shot on large format digital Alexa 65 instead of celluloid. He said, “If this is a film that’s a look at the past through the prism of the present — it needed to be contemporary: pristine, not grainy.” The camera in Roma has a mind of its own. Super slow, slow or fast, it moves a lot which was made possible by the production design of Eugenio Caballero, who recreated Cuarón family home with movable walls. Production values and art direction are also meticulously done which make Roma visually exquisite and rich.

Cuarón decided to be his own DP when academy award winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) wasn’t available. He has made use of mid shots throughout the movie. Some of the best shots you are ever going to see in modern cinema featured in Cuarón last two films, and in Roma the tracking shots are again on a very different level. The camera moves in a heightening frenzy. Roma achieves its rhythm from the camera movement which more than compensates for the lack of a dedicated soundtrack.

Apart from the family, Mexico City is also an object of Alfonso Cuarón focus. 1970s was a tumultuous period where the city was undergoing through rapid political and social changes. This happens in the backdrop of the disintegration of the family.

Roma is poetic—delightful, nostalgic and deeply affecting. It is also incredibly human and has the truthfulness of documentary filmmaking. Part of that comes from Cuarón’s decision to cast non-actors (who resemble the people in his childhood). The passion and honesty comes from the fact that it is rooted in Cuarón’s own life which is why it gives a feeling of a lived experience, a reflection on observations and experiences. Sometimes a directors’ best work is not their most personal, and the most personal work can at times err on the indulgence side. Cuarón’s Roma is both uncompromising in vision as well as in execution.

The ending of Roma is sublime. Cleo can’t swim but she risks her life to save the two drowning children. Then, she has an epiphany and she bursts into tears. She blames herself for the loss of her own child. Afterwards, she is better. There is a hope in eyes of both the women and so in ours. A must watch film!

Rating: 9/10

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Roma - Official Trailer

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