Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Running time: 135 minutes
Horror films scarce of dialogue, devastating finger snaps, and Lady Gaga. 2018 has been quite the year in film. And as we rumble on towards the ticking off of another 12 months, the time for the finalising of many a movie-goer’s twenty-eighteen top ten list is very much upon us. But before committing those titles to ink (and, by ink, we of course mean Twitter), be sure to check out one more. It might just change everything.
Roma is an immensely personal piece of work. Referring to the district of Mexico City where he grew up, the film’s title is likely engrained upon each one of Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood recollections like the etching of a faded pencil across the back of an old, grainy photograph. ‘Piece of work’ is somewhat underselling it, then. Rather, Roma hovers blissfully in the realm between dream and memory. Raw, honest, and affecting, this is filmmaking at its most pure. This is true art.
On the surface, Roma is worlds apart from the otherworldliness that permeates Cuarón’s previous cinematic ventures. Away from the beautifully vast nothingness of space, the grey, littered streets of a decaying dystopian London, and the dark, winding passageways of a wizarding school illuminated in piercing moonlight, Roma transports us to Mexico’s early ‘70’s and the home of a middle-class family. But, like the motif of flowing water that bookends his film, waves of hypnotic beauty quietly wash over Roma throughout, coating it an ethereal power that mean it could just as easily be taking some place altogether unearthly.
That said, just like each of its director’s works, Roma is also a film grounded in universal realism. Despite autobiographical foundations, Cuarón’s narrative focus is fixed upon Cleo (Aparicio) – the family’s meek, unassuming live-in maid. Cuarón’s camera meticulously follows her daily routines and interactions; from cleaning up driveway dog shit – one of the film’s many neatly recurring tropes and parallels – to a heartfelt child’s embrace whilst watching television. It’s a patient build-up, but wholly necessary to allow Cuarón to wonderfully utilise the mundane – the parking of a car; the wiping of a telephone – as subtle means of character fleshing. In doing so, Roma gradually reveals itself as a story about journeys (the film was actually shot in sequence) emotional awakening, and human existence.
It’s a narrative that is hardly unfamiliar, but Cuarón breathes so much life into every single one of his black and white shots – everything from framing to depth of field – that it gives Roma a startling originality and meaningful beauty that it could play out entirely as a silent film and not lose an inch of its power. Along the way, we are allowed only snippets of several other narrative paths we’d be equally content to follow; however, in its commitment to reflecting the very essence of life itself, omniscience is a luxury Roma simply cannot afford us.
Yet, despite its universal themes, Cuarón’s film is also a timely depiction of the female experience. Bubbling away beneath the film’s visual splendour is a touching tale about women, where men are often painted as absent and aggressive which, as a result, enables the buds of female companionship to blossom.
At its heart – one that will, over the course of the film’s two-hour run time, both break and mend that of its audience – is a staggering debut performance from Yalitza Aparicio. Astonishingly acute and astoundingly aching, her depiction of someone slowly understanding herself and the world around her is nothing short of impeccable. Giving us one of the finest central performances of the year in one of the most exquisitely shot films of the decade, both Aparicio and Cuarón silently cast you under their spell, leaving you with more to ponder than you can even begin to comprehend.
With Roma, Netflix might just have found its masterpiece.
Given the very nature of its release, they’ll undoubtedly be all manner of online quibbling over the best way to ‘see’ Roma. Ignore all of it. Simply go and watch it – any way possible. It’s unfaltering commitment to the human condition will shine through on any screen, no matter the size.
Your top ten list will thank you later.
Roma is now available to watch on Netflix.