Review: Roma (2018)

Roma (2018)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón | 135 minutes | drama | Actors: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nancy García García, Verónica García, Andy Cortés, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza, Latin Lover, Zarela Lizbeth Chinolla Arellano, José Luis López Gómez, Edwin Mendoza Ramírez, Clementina Guadarrama, Enoc Leaño, Nicolás Perez Taylor Félix, Kjartan Halvorsen

It’s a bit silly to whine about the lack of a wide theatrical release for every prestigious Netflix film. Maybe we should just learn to accept that the movie landscape has changed forever. But some films do go out of their way to stir the desire for a cinematic experience, as did ‘Annihilation’ and ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ earlier this year. But even more than these titles, Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ is a film that you can really only fully experience on the big screen.

It may not have been a move you would expect from Cuarón any time soon. After the success of films like ‘Children of Men’ and Oscar winner ‘Gravity’, you would expect a major Hollywood production rather than an intimate, almost entirely Spanish-language drama. And yet ‘Roma’ has become the provisional high point in his already impressive oeuvre. In breathtakingly beautiful black and white, we follow Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who works as a housekeeper and nanny for a middle-class family in Mexico City. At first glance, everything seems peaceful, but Cuarón very slowly peels off the edges of civilization and allows tragedy to creep in. All this against the background of a turbulent Mexico in the early 1970s in which violent outbursts and revolts are constantly lurking.

‘Roma’ is probably Cuarón’s most personal film to date: the story is semi-autobiographical, although the story in no way revolves around its own history. Cleo is said to have been modeled after Cuarón’s own nanny, whom he used to see as a second mother. The camera therefore remains close to Cleo for the entire playing time. Aparicio hardly needs to go on an exuberant tour: her facial expression speaks volumes in every scene. Although he mainly stays at a distance at first, Cuarón manages to very slowly let the film and its characters get under the viewer’s skin. Where you can mainly marvel at the beautiful visual approach in the first hour, Cuarón hands out emotional thump after thump in the second hour. ‘Roma’ is melancholic, authentic and above all very modest. It also works so well because of the almost frightening natural play of debuting lead actress Yalitza Aparicio, previously a teacher, but discovered by Cuarón as the ideal lead actress in a suburb of Mexico City. What a face and what a subtle performance. An Oscar nomination would be well deserved. Whose heart doesn’t break at the scene on the beach towards the end of the film, it is better to withdraw into his or her own cynical world.

In addition to directing, Cuarón also did the script, production, editing and camera work. It must be very strange if he does not want to win at least one Oscar next spring, and that would be more than deserved: ‘Roma’ approaches absolute perfection, especially in the technical aspects and visual language. Cuarón does not need complicated tricks, but finds the beauty in the human everyday.

Of course there are (heavy) themes such as unwanted motherhood, divorces and eternal servitude and subordination, but Cuarón never exaggerates this. Not that the story in all its realism loses in suspense: in ‘Roma’ there is a childbirth scene that is not inferior in intensity to the sequence in the car in ‘Children of Men’. Only to almost get over this later in a scene in the sea, where you can hardly suppress the urge to dive into the water yourself.

‘Roma’ easily joins the list of small masterpieces that film year 2018 has so far produced. ‘Roma’ only runs for a short time in the cinema, but don’t be tempted by the convenience of your couch and TV screen. Rarely has a small film been so great that only the big screen suffices.

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