Roma review Yalitza Aparicio

Year: 2018
Director(s): Alfonso Cuaron
Writer(s): Alfonso Cuaron
Region of Origin: Mexico, US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 135 mins

Synopsis: A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. (Source)

Roma is quite possibly Alfonso Cuaron’s most monumental film yet. Centered around an affecting memoir of his childhood, Cuaron is telling a story that only he can, reflecting on a woman who has deeply empowered him. At a time when cinema has the ability to make us believe in the extraordinary, Cuaron passionately makes a case for the mundane. The results are breathtaking. Nothing is wasted as he celebrates female strength, camaraderie and motherhood. Shot in striking black-and-white, this dazzling marvel of character and technical prowess isn’t a film we can just watch. It washes over us, and when all is said and done, we can’t help but come out of it overcome with emotion.

Set in 1970s Mexico City, the story concerns an unassuming middle-class family. Amidst this family of four children, a doctor, and his wife, is a steadfast housemaid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Cleo completes her duties with delicacy and care, and the family mostly treats her like their own. She even shares a deep bond with the children who view her like an aunt. Things get turned around, however, after Cleo finds out that she’s pregnant. Though the family is excited for her, the baby’s father wants nothing to do with it, leaving Cleo stunned. This source of tension is just the start of mounting turmoil. Soon, Cleo’s life becomes intertwined with outside political troubles even as the family’s matriarch begins to experience struggles of her own. As things hurtle toward an unforeseen conclusion, Cleo and family find strength and solidarity through their unique relationship.

The most remarkable thing about Cuaron’s film, is that it’s more an observatory tone poem than traditional narrative. Cuaron’s interest is in allowing Cleo and those around her to just be. He presents everything via Cleo’s daily actives, sticking to her almost exclusively as she navigates a myriad of domestic duties. Some of her work is repetitious, other moments more noteworthy, but they are always effortlessly fascinating because of how she composes herself and reacts to unforeseen difficulties along the way. As the film’s meditative pace gains momentum and Cleo’s world begins to crumble, a picture of blinding sincerity comes into focus. Cuaron doesn’t paint Cleo as some beacon of perfection, but it’s through her kindness and integrity that he celebrates her. Above all, Cuaron crafts a rich microcosm thriving with life and humanity. Even as the film doesn’t shy away from a few horrible realities, its honesty is life-affirming in a way that never bows to fake sentiment or sugar-coated gloss. 

Roma review Yalitza Aparicio Marina de Tavira

With Cuaron’s razor-sharp focus on Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio’s performance is staggering. Without her, the film simply wouldn’t have a foundation.  It’s Aparicio who sells the film’s honest rendering of the human spirit. She’s also someone we instantly endear to, and we’re attracted by her effortlessly gentle nature despite the turmoil that must be raging within. Bottom line, Aparicio’s performance can’t be missed, lending the story its realism and a beating heart. Marina de Tavira and Fernando Grediaga round out Cleo’s story even further, drawing out different aspects of her personality and contributing to the film’s infinite nuance.

Roma is a flat out masterpiece. Its story is centered around a character who has almost never been given a focus in film, and Cuaron draws infinite complexity from his stunning tribute. From the measured photography to a restrained approach, the narrative and visual poetry on display cut straight to the heart. In turn, it’s a shining example of what film achieve at the hands of a master. Cuaron has blended technical precision with heartfelt urgency. This doesn’t feel like something we’ve watched, so much as lived. Ultimately, this is a new classic, reflecting a way of life all but forgotten or marginalized. It’s bound to be cherished and fawned over for some time to come. 

SG