The newest film of Alfonso Cuarón is nothing like his previous creations which feel like a trial run comparing to the masterpiece tipping to be on top of the Oscars race. Even though Roma was produced by Netflix, which withheld the film from Cannes as the festival’s art director, Thierry Frémaux, announced the exclusion from the main contest of the films that were not intended for cinema distribution, TIME Magazine has chosen it as the best movie of 2018.
Cuarón decided to come back to his homeland, Mexico, for the first time in 17 years. Moreover, in contrast to his previous films that have been rather signified by distance towards presented reality, this time the director chose to tell profoundly personal story. Hence, Cuarón was not only the director and writer, but also camera operator and co-editor.
Set in 1970 and 1971 Mexico City, the film follows a year-in-the-life of a young and loyal housemaid to a middle-class family – Cleo (outstanding Yalitza Aparicio). The plot may seem about everything and nothing as it is about family, children, animals, communication, birth, death, men, women, class anxiety and struggles with turbulent times of the city where violence twines with everyday life. We follow Cleo in her normal, everyday responsibilities and struggles that she suddenly has to face. The title refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighbourhood in Mexico City, which was originally designed for an upper-class to become a middle-class district in decline, that is also visible on the screen as Cuarón carefully creates a feeling of an old-fashioned creation, in the most noble sense of that word.
The director doesn’t rush anything by building up complicated plots. It is a detail that matters the most and the sensitivity of which is demonstrated in every aspect of the film. It can be spotted in the perfected shots, that this time were created without usual help of Emmanuel Lubezki. The numerous panoramic shots create a feeling of spying on the presented world with curiosity fitting the idea of family saga (but the cinema shot! – simply astonishing). Roma being filmed in low contrast black-and-white through large scale 65mm digital lenses arouses to imagine it in colour with simultaneous certainty that black and white is the most suitable. Calm, yet so lively.
Although Roma focuses mainly on an individual, the film beams with togetherness that also focuses on the world where women have to take care of themselves when men leave. There are kids, servants, a grandmother and charismatic mother trying to fill in the gap after a father. There’s seemingly nothing happening in the characters’ lives, yet, you want to be a part of it even when the biggest storm comes. This is when you actually start spotting more and more details, and in the end – to fall in love with it.
Cuarón’s genius is based on the lack of pushing for big emotions. The mature symbiosis of the characters is brilliant in its simplicity that emanates with an emotional act at the same time. Ultimately, the director’s memoir is both utterly intimate and monumental in expressing the depths of everyday life. Roma is dedicated to Libo (Libora Rodríguez), the woman who took care of Cuarón and his family home like the one in the film. It seems like he never left that neighbourhood and that woman. This is probably what gives Roma a feeling of being emotionally overwhelming. And so visually beautiful.