Oscar-winning director of “Gravity” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Alfonso Cuarón could score 10 more awards with his latest film, the Netflix original “Roma.”
“Roma” is a moving work of art following a household maid through domestic and political unrest in Mexico during the 1970s. The film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid for a middle class family, in a neighborhood called Colonia Roma in Mexico City. Although Cleo is included as a part of the family she works for, she is also often reminded of her subservient role in the household.
There are many times throughout the film where she expresses love toward the children with greater genuineness than their own parents. Cleo is a quiet, young woman, carrying herself with dignified strength through a rapidly changing world at home and beyond. She makes do with what little she has and tries equally as hard to avoid trouble. This is most apparent when marital challenges arise between Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Sr. Antonio (Fernando Grediaga).
Cleo’s world does a sudden 180 degree turn when her relationship with Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) results in pregnancy. Cleo tells Fermín about her pregnancy in the middle of a movie date, but he “goes to the bathroom” and never returns. “Roma” follows a year in the life of Cleo as she prepares for her baby, tries to mend the ties in a family that is ripping apart and moves through a violent and changing world.
The most glorious part of this film is Cuarón’s masterful cinematography. He shot the film himself in black and white, and every scene is filmed with intention. The movie acts as a moving art piece as many stand still and moving shots could be passed off as realistic paintings.
From toys and dirty clothes strewn about the floor, to magnificent landscapes with seemingly natural wildlife, “Roma” does a perfect job of bringing the viewer into its world. Every quadrant of a scene tells a big or small story within the story through close attention to detail, adding to the immersion and realistic autobiographical storytelling of Cuarón’s upbringing.
However, Cuarón isn’t the only master of his craft that adds to the color of this black and white film. Aparicio’s and Tavira’s performances bring as much realism as the camera does. The camera and the acting both build upon each other to develop characters who are highly relatable.
The way both women handle the familial strains of an absent husband and father builds a sharp contrast between them as they deal with abandonment. Cleo has a soft, gloomy peace which sustains her, whereas Sra. Sofia has moments of explosive anger and disillusionment. Yet, they are still uniquely unified in their desire to deeply love their children and knit together what is broken. These performances compliment each other so well that it’s no surprise they are nominated for best actress (Aparicio) and best supporting actress (Tavira) for the 91st Academy Awards.
The holy trinity of great filmmaking — cinematography, acting and script writing — come together to make a near perfect film in “Roma.” The movie’s greatest strength is its seamless ability to interweave art, love and tragedy in a masterpiece that should be marked a highlight of film history.