There may be a temptation to hold off viewing “Roma” for when it becomes available for streaming on Netflix soon after its limited theatrical release, but this is one movie best seen on the BIG SCREEN. A similar statement could be said for all of Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s (“Gravity” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) films because the look of his projects are as noteworthy as any other aspects, if not more so. He is a filmmaker in the true sense of the word! In the case of “Roma,” the black and white cinematography is utterly captivating and wonderfully takes center stage while offering a respectful nod to Fellini.
Set in 1970 in Cuarón’s homeland of Mexico, specifically a section of Mexico City, the film is a loving homage to his childhood home, his community and his family, made up of a stay-at-home mother, a father who is a doctor, a maternal grandmother, four small children and the family’s domestic help. The thinly veiled story is from the perspective of the family’s housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young, hardworking kind soul who notices everything, cares for everyone, but judges no one. The audience is with her as she rises before anyone else in the wee hours of the morning and prepares breakfast. The camera follows her throughout the execution of her other household tasks, such as hanging clothes up to dry on the line, and cleaning up after the family dogs left to their own devices too often in the home’s courtyard. Cleo puts the kids to bed, wakes them in the morning and accompanies them to school each day. She empathizes with the mother as she is crushed by her husband’s decision to walk away from the family, leaving them with little money to maintain their somewhat affluent lifestyle.
In between caring for the family, Cleo endures her own personal drama of falling in love and suffering loss. The dialogue is sparse, the story line is minimal, yet this film seems to convey volumes. It manages to be intimate while also epic; simple, yet complex; covering multiple classes of people, social issues and political upheaval, and all while navigating various physical landscapes. We’re taken from urban centers to country ranches and costal towns. There are experiences of poverty and wealth, and the tension of Mexico’s class divides. Throughout, the photography, shot by Cuarón himself, sweeps you up and envelopes you, adding a sense of emotional richness and texture, and although the characters are purposely not completely drawn, they feel authentic. Underscoring the film’s authenticity, and like a breath of fresh air, is the use of non-professional actors in key roles, not least of which is Aparicio herself. “Roma” is her debut, having come straight from teaching pre-school to Curan’s set. In all, Cuarón has successfully captured a sense of time and place resulting in a film that is as gorgeous as it is poignant, making it a cinematic experience not to be missed. “Roma” is slated to get only a brief theatrical release before being made available on Netflix.