Dir; Alfonso Cuaron. Starring; Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey. R. B&W. 135 min.
Only one word describes director Alfonso Cuaron’s journey back to his Mexican roots; beautiful. After having his cake and eating it too with big time Hollywood films like “Children of Men”, “Gravity”, and the third “Harry Potter” movie, Cuaron wrote, shot, edited and directed a tale inspired by his own upbringing in Mexico during the 1970’s. He did so without using a single “marquee” actor or fresh face that we are familiar with.
Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, an uneducated domestic worker for a middle class family living in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City with the backdrop of a time when Mexico was experiencing a great deal of social upheavel. The father is a doctor named Antonio and almost nonexistent. Most of Cleo’s tasks include helping Señora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and her four children. Cleo sees glimpses of a strained marriage and complicated household, but focuses on taking care of the kids. In her spare time, what little she has, she enjoys watching old sci-fi movies and going out on the town with her fellow house worker Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia).
Cleo and Adela like treating themselves to the local cinema with their macho wannabe boyfriends. After a fateful hotel room stay highlighted by her boyfriend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerroro) showing off his so-called martial arts skills naked with a shower curtain, Cleo finds out she is pregnant. For all of his “I’m a badass” talk, Fermin leaves Cleo alone in the middle of a dark movie theater after hearing the news. Having sympathy for her, Señora Sofia wants to help Cleo guide her way through a difficult situation.
That is the basic plot, but only scratches the surface of how romantic this story of a marginalized person is. Cuaron based the film on his childhood nanny and growing up in Mexico City. A small portion of critics have said “Roma” is egotistical because it is made by a rich filmmaker who does not know the first thing about being poor and uneducated. Dumbest criticism I have ever heard (worst critic of all time Armond White’s review was my favorite, check it out for a laugh). Obviously a film that costs millions of dollars and is produced by Netflix is not made by someone in the world Cleo lives in. That takes nothing away from how humanistic this story is. Are we supposed to hate Charles Dickens for writing “Oliver Twist” because he was not working in an orphanage at the time?
The signature of a great movie is in the details. Little things like Señora Sofia driving a nice car but struggling to get it in the tiny family driveway which is an insignificant plot point that comes back around in the end. Tastes of surrealist unrest in the community slowly building go along a parallel path with Cleo’s nerve-racking uncertainty about the looming birth of her child.
My only critique, perhaps not the right word. My only observation is that every frame of “Roma” is just gorgeous. Picture going to the Met in New York and all of the paintings in the building are Van Gogh’s A Starry Night or flipping through a greatest hits collection of Ansel Adams photography. It’s overwhelming. A character walking up a staircase is breathtaking. When I think of Cuaron’s best film “Children of Men” two scenes stand out; the circular camera in the car shot and the long take at the end when the baby is born. Everything stands out here, which may also be a small curse. This film is nothing short of an exquisite visual journey but be prepared to take in every frame as its own separate work of art.
“Roma” is Cuaron’s baby from top to bottom. Beginning as a surreal telescope look at the poorest neighborhoods of the city to a glimpse into inter-family politics and ending with one of the most heartbreaking/inspiring last twenty minutes in recent memory. Do not be afraid to watch something in black & white with subtitles that peers into the history of a country some want to build a wall around. Any human being in the world can find a piece of “Roma” they will relate to.
Suck Factor: 0 out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!