Roma - Review
Dark, beautiful, and immersive, Roma is the culmination of Alfonso Cuarón’s career, and one of the most riveting films of 2018.
Alfonso Cuarón’s return to Mexico has yielded his most visually unique film yet. Roma seeks to capture the struggle of a Mexican woman named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she works for Sra. Sofía (Marina de Tavira), a calloused wife whose husband leaves her early in the film. The opening credits are one long take of the family’s courtyard tile, painstakingly washed by Cleo, and the final shot is a similar long take: these two shots bookend one of the most visually bold films of the year, a film that forces you to watch at its pace, and experience feelings in real time. Roma possesses a style more reminiscent of the French New Wave than anything Cuarón has done until this point, and it’s entrancing. Much of what Roma has to say, it says wordlessly; the faces of the various people Cleo encounters become like a great picture book of the time Cuarón wishes to capture, as well as the feeling.
A scene that involves Cleo’s lover demonstrating a martial arts routine with a shower pole is the first indicator that Roma has a sense of humor. Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) has just slept with Cleo, and as if in further display of his manhood, he performs a complex and dangerous-looking set of moves with a steel beam, all while naked. What makes this hilarious is his audience of one, who looks on with the kind of admiration that comes with any first time lover. It’s not authentic, confirmed later in the film when Cleo visits Fermín at his training camp, only to be scolded and threatened with another set of moves. It’s uncomfortable both times, but the placement of these two scenes allows us to experience Cleo’s relationship with Fermín as she does; that is, joyously at first, but much more troubling later. It’s the kind of frame that suggests an arc of maturity, the most compelling aspect of Roma: a story of a woman growing up. Cleo begins in a place of blissful meaninglessness, unaware of the pain that comes with caring, and without a clear sense of judgement. Consequently, the camera moves statically in the early scenes, with clean movements and smooth transitions that emphasize the comfort in sameness Cleo experiences. As the film progresses into darker territory, like the death of Cleo’s child and a riot outside of a store she is occupying, the camera opens up into the grand sweeps that have become synonymous with Cuarón. There’s a forest fire, a terrifying drowning sequence, and plenty of clashes between Cleo and Sra. Sofía. It’s a small story told in grand proportions, which left Cuarón’s previous film, Gravity, in a tricky place. Not a small story by any means, it was the story of a woman desperately trying to escape her circumstances. It’s like watching a revelation. Cuarón’s camera (he served as his own cinematographer) is gorgeous, capturing the smallest details on the largest scales. For someone who has been working this hard for this long, it should be no surprise that Roma is as good as it is, but something about it feels like the arrival of a new cinema. Open, joyful, and emotional, Roma returns Cuarón to the style that made films like Y Tu Mamá También so moving, a focus on the insignificant stories that make us human.