Alfonso Cuaron is a masterful filmmaker. His glorious work transcends decades, genres, and communities – boundless in his intricate intimacy. From Y Tu Mamma Tambien to Gravity (with a magical pit stop at Harry Potter,) Cuaron has shifted and shaped genres with his stunning work. Now he brings us Roma – a truly astonishing piece of work.
The film, semi-based on his own experiences, revolves around Mexico City in 1970 and 1971. It focuses on maid Cleo who works with an affluent family alongside other maid Adela. Head of the family is couple Sofia and Antonio, who are slowly going through a painful divorce and are keen to keep it from their three boisterous children. Cleo is also having a relationship with a young man and the film flows through snapshots of their lives all the while a rebellion is forming in the background.
Roma is one of those films that has been constantly spoken about since it bounced around film festivals and many a (more accomplished) critic has tackled the beast with fervent glee and adoration. It’s hard to follow those review. It’s also hard to come up with better words that aren’t just “stunning,” “breath-taking,” and “perfect” all over again. The hysteria around Roma is warranted – it’s absolutely one of the most enchanting pieces of cinema around.
Cuaron strips back to the mechanics of family life, told from the point of view of “the help.” Played with stellar naturalism by Yalitza Aparicio, an apparent acting novice, Cleo is this lovely and complex woman who has a kind nature that is boxed in by the world around her. As a live-in maid, she rarely has a moment of respite before she is washing the copious amounts of faeces of the drive-way or cleaning away the children’s tornado-like lives. Aparicio goes through grief and anguish and the work is excellent. It’s surprising this film is mostly improvisation, these non-actors bring an intimacy to these characters that is unparalleled with a lot of films here.
The choice to shoot primarily in black and white is a bold choice and yet the absence of colour only enhances the vibrancy of Cleo and her world. Cuaron produces some impeccable shots and framing devices that will burn forever in your mind. Even if it is the first watery reflection of a plane overhead, mirrored in a later shot, or a burning shrubbery on fire that causes a wayward man to bellow songs. Cuaron has delicately and beautifully conducted one of the most visually appeasing movies that is redolent in its exquisite nature – burning into your mind with such a haunting presence.
Roma has sparked off the Netflix verses cinema debate. There are those who vehemently believe that this stirring piece of art needs to be seen on the big screen. True, there are visuals here that call out for the big screen, moving with an equally captured audience. But Netflix’s cinematic release has eschewed the film to only a small set of screenings in the capital – it isn’t entirely possible for all of us to see it on a big screen.
It’s funny. This is a film so structured in its portrayal of glass, whether it is the encompassing house with its crooked flat attached or a woman cleaning up the mess of a whirlwind rich family who then criticise the mess. It’s absurd that people who take away from this film a snobby attitude about where people watch the movie – negating how limited and expensive those screenings are. True, I have fallen prey to this behaviour and if you can see Roma in a big screen, then watch Roma in a big screen. However, your experience is not lesser at home.
Regardless of how you see it, I cannot stress this enough – just see it. Turn off your phones, your lights, and snuggle in with a cup of tea just to absorb everything that Cuaron has poured into the story here. The intimacy, the texture, and the spirit of the film will surely capture you no matter the capacity that you watch it in.
Roma is out in select cinemas today.
It hits Netflix on 14th December!