MPAA Rating: R | Rating: ★★★★★
Release year: 2018
Genre: Drama Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Roma is a haunted house film where the ghosts are memories. Though less enigmatic and elliptical, Alfonso Cuarón’s film reminds me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror via its cinematic exploration of traces in time and the lingering significance of a particular place. A formalist exercise with impressive black-and-white cinematography and slowly meandering pans and long-takes, Roma‘s mise-en-scéne is so richly complex you’ll feel the need to pause the film just to take in the scenery. But Roma is not a mere formal exercise, akin to the brash style of fellow Mexican director and Cuarón’s amigo, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Even when he’s offering another aloof 360-degree panning shot,  Cuarón is nonetheless subtle and empathetic, the camera’s eye haunting these environments like an unseen time traveller who has appeared to not only observe, but to bear witness. As director, writer, and cinematographer, this feels like Cuarón’s magnum opus, the film he was born to create. Right from the stunning opening shot of a tile floor covered in soapy water reflecting the image of the sky as a plane passes overhead, we recognize that we are in capable hands.

Roma centers on a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young maid serving a bourgeoisie family in Mexico City in 1970-71. Cleo takes care of the house, the dog, and the four children as the mother Sofía (Marina de Tavira) tries to hold it together as her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) leaves her and the children. But Cleo has her own dilemma as she finds herself pregnant and alone after a one-night-stand, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), abandons her. While these two narrative threads often run parallel to each other, Sofía does tells Cleo in a brief conversation that “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” In a way, Roma is a nostalgic observational meditation on the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted.” Quiet and calm, this is just what Cleo does–she persists, endures, graces others with her presence. Aparicio imbues Cleo with a quiet confidence, leaving us in awe of this ordinary woman, and offering one of the most impressive performances of 2018.

There are deliberately reminiscent scenes alluding to Cuarón’s previous works, like a carousel of cinematic memories and images. We revisit Y Tu Mamá También through the numerous in-car and road trip scenes, especially in a significant family trip to the beach. Children of Men appears when a pregnant woman finds herself caught in the middle of a violent clash between police and protestors (only this time no one stops fighting to let her pass). The tragic existence of children caught up in the wake of decisions made by adults is apparent in both Roma and A Little Princess. There’s even a nod to Gravity in the family’s visit to the cinema to see John Sturges’ Marooned. This isn’t a greatest hits nor a memorial; it’s the memories of Cuarón’s youth floating out of his head and onto the screen for us to watch. More than anything, Cuarón’s ongoing thematic exploration of the relationship between mothers and children is prominent and tangible–this is a film about family relationships, how even those who aren’t related by blood sometimes are the most committed in their unconditional love. It is the culmination of everything Cuarón has created before even as it evokes excitement to know that he’ll continue to create in the not-so-distant future.

Even as you should seek it out in theatres to view on the largest screen possible, it is nonetheless a gift that Roma is available everywhere now via Netflix streaming. Roma is a love letter to liminality. In its use of both Spanish and mixtec languages, it reveals how characters live (even thrive) in the in-between places and spaces of class and culture. As an adoptee with a white father and Hispanic mother, I strongly resonated with Roma‘s treatment of such liminal experiences. At-once nostalgic and fresh, Roma finds transcendence in the mundane moments of everyday lives and ordinary people–hanging laundry, staircases, car mirrors, airplanes overhead, soap bubbles. It is a beautiful celebration of peoplehood and place in an often place-less world.

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One Response to Roma

  1. Lara Morris December 14, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

    Joel Mayward, your review was written as beautiful as the movie

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