Release Date: 21 November 2018
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Production Company: Espectáculos Fílmicos El Coyúl | Pimienta Films | Participant Media | Esperanto Filmoj
Among contemporary directors, Alfonso Cuarón is the one most likely to make a completely different type of movie on each outing. Roma is a film inspired by Cuarón’s childhood memories and in that sense is a lot like Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander and Fellini’s Amarcord, especially in its use of well-choreographed crowd scenes of family and community activity.
Set in 1970-71, the film is set in the home of a prosperous family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The main character is the family’s live-in maid/nanny Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young woman of indigenous ancestry. Cleo becomes pregnant early in the film but is abandoned by her lover Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). Meanwhile, the mother of the family, Sofía (Marina de Tavira) must deal with holding the family together when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. These twin stories are impressionistically set against family drama, celebratory gatherings, and the political violence of Luis Echeverría’s presidency. The most significant scene of the latter involves the Corpus Christi Massacre, when government-trained paramilitaries murdered 120 student protestors, occuring while Cleo is shopping for a crib and then going into labor.
Filmed in crisp black & white, Roma is a visually-stunning movie that immerses the audience in early 1970s Mexico. Like Yasujirō Ozu, Cuarón frequently employs mid- and long-range shots where the camera does not move while characters move in and out of frame. He also constructs some impressive tracking shots that make you think “how did they do that?” And yet, despite Aparicio’s fine performance, I feel like Cleo is always at a distance and we never get to know her very well. Thus I don’t feel the strong emotions in the film’s climax that many other viewers did. Centering the story on women, and particularly an indigenous woman, instead of a child proxy for Cuaron is admirable, but it also never quite connects for me.
I think this is a beautiful and admirable film, but I also can understand the criticisms that it whitewashes the inequality between Cleo and the family and that the technical brilliance overshadows the human heart. Still, this one would be worth seeing again on a big screen if I ever get the chance.