Visually stunning and with an intimate, personal narrative, Roma is a masterpiece to surrender to completely. Director Alfonso Cuaron, whose prolific work includes Great Expectations (1998), Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban (2003) and Gravity (2013), crafts each of his black and white frames in Roma with intricate detail.
While it is essentially the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid cum nanny in a household in the Roma district of Mexico, the film, set in the 1970s, acts a prism to the auteur’s socio-political commentary. The storyline is also personal to Cuaron as it based on first-hand experiences, and dedicated to his childhood nanny in real life.
Along with another maid employed in the same home, Cleo’s life centres around the numerous household activities which could be anything from mopping the tiles on the driveway littered with dog poop to picking up the kids from school to tucking them to bed at night. As Cleo goes about her day, we see lives of those she works for unfold through her – the strained relationship between the parents, the fragile emotions of Sofia (Maria de Tavira), the lady of the house, the kids sensing something is amiss even though their parents haven’t disclosed anything to them yet. Then there is Cleo’s own life that takes centre stage – as she falls in love and soon gets accidently pregnant, the shifting equations of her relationship with her boyfriend and with Sofia, who is going through her own personal crisis.
In Roma, Cuaron is behind the camera not just as director but also the cinematographer for the first time. The narrative moves at an unhurried pace, and the visuals captivate you with each passing second. Cuaron constructs almost every frame as a mis en scene with details and a depth reminiscent of Italian neorealist cinema of the 1940s and 50s, a time when world cinema witnessed the genius of Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves), Federico Fellini (La Strada), Satyajit Ray (Pather Pachali). Throughout this poignant, humane narrative, are beautifully etched out shots, scenes and sequences that take your breath away. The stay and silences are long in many of the frames to soak in every moment. Be prepared to get choked up in one particularly gut-wrenching child birth sequence, and also awed by some of the simplest moments and emotions told spectacularly through Cuaron’s masterwork. The overwhelmingly beautiful last scene included.
The film won the Golden Lion at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, is a strong Oscar contender, and has been nominated for the 2019 Golden Globes in three categories.
Watching Roma on big screen is a cinematic experience, and the film has been given a theatrical release in select theatres across the world. However, movie aficionados can savour this masterpiece on Netflix now.
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Nancy Garcia Garcia, Fernando Grediaga
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron
Cinematography: Alfonso Cuaron
Release Date: December 14, 2018 (Netflix)
Run Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
The reviewer watched Roma on big screen at the 2018 MAMI film festival.
All images: Courtesy Netflix