Director Alfonso Cuarón returns to his indie roots since 2001’s indelible Y Tu Mamá También with the sublime Roma. Filmed in black-and-white and set in 1970s Mexico, Roma follows the life of a young maid named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she serves the boisterous brood of a doctor and his unappreciated wife and navigates an unexpected pregnancy while civic unrest in the city reaches a breaking point.
Themes of womanhood and motherhood are presented unflinchingly and heartrendingly as Cleo and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), the mother of the household, are mistreated, looked down upon, and forced into uncomfortable, desperate, or downright horrific situations by men and societal systems. Both women are abandoned by their male partners and left to fend by themselves. Cleo does so with the quiet grace of a servant with no money or status while Sofia scrambles to provide for her children and struggles to avoid being crushed by her misfortune. Both are presented as flawed and complex characters with their own unique stories of being othered (by race and/or by money) who also find solace in each other’s loyalty and in their shared love of Sofia’s four rowdy but lovable children.
Cuarón, who also took on the role of cinematographer for Roma, hones his idiosyncratic long takes, background/foreground interplay, and smooth camerawork into a true masterpiece of filmmaking, topping his already fantastic dystopian movie Children of Men, which also used many of the same techniques. Not only are the visuals stunning but the sound design is a revelation. Immersive city sounds evoke the chaos of Colonia Roma, a neighbourhood of Mexico City and the film’s namesake. Cuarón also gets gritty with moments of shock and violence with nightmarish moments of things going utterly wrong. Protesters and radicals who were previously peppered into the background of scenes are suddenly foregrounded—literally and metaphorically—and threaten the safety of the main characters. Cleo’s pregnancy is also rife with anxiety-inducing situations, culminating in the most stomach-churning scene in the film. But there are also surreal and hilarious moments, such as a man being shot out of a cannon and a naked martial arts demonstration.
Roma is Cuarón’s 8 ½.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 4.6