STARRING: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Nancy García, Verónica García and José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Set predominantly in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City, we follow a maid Cleo, a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighbourhood. Delivering an artful love letter to the women who raised him, Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil of the 1970s.
Roma is the latest feature from Children of Men and Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón, which serves as a semi-autobiographical take of sorts about Alfonso’s personal upbringing in Mexico City. The film is mostly set in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City where we focus on Cleo, a young housekeeper who works for a middle-class family in the neighbourhood and we follow the daily lives of herself and the family that she works for.
The one thing to take away from Roma is Alfonso Cuarón’s attention to detail in his directing and the cinematography on show. Cuarón takes long, panned shots of the neighbourhood and the city environment surrounding Cleo and the members of Sofia’s family, to the way he captures certain picturesque frames from Cleo sitting in a cinema where everyone seems perfectly in focus, to a protest turned into a full scale riot outside a store. Cuarón always had a great eye for directing and in this personal story for him that he’s committed himself fully into as the housekeeper character, Cleo, is based directly on the one that worked for his parents. The role is played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, who is gives such an authentic, kindly performance as Cleo that I can see why critics have been raving about her as well as the committees behind the votes this awards season. We’re only given the scale of the political climate in one scene, but verbally we learn of shootings to land being taken. I liked the parallels between Cleo and Sofia, with one being left pregnant and abandoned by her lover, to Sofia’s crumbling marriage with her husband, showcasing the two having more in common than they think despite their class titles.
While the film is a technical marvel, I will admit that it took me a while to actually get invested in the film. Roma is purposefully and methodically slow paced as it gives us looks to immerse us into the surroundings of Roma and this personalised moving photo collage of Cleo and the family that she works for and yet for the first half of the film it wasn’t connecting with me at all. Maybe it could either be due to watching this feature on Netflix at home as none of the local cinemas are screening it or maybe it just misses something else entirely. There is one scene in particular that took me out of the film for a while as a group of people try to put out a forest fire whilst another guy in a costume appears and sings before going back to his merry business. It’s rather odd and for me it was more of a distraction more than anything.
While it features beautiful cinematography and great direction by Alfonso Cuarón, I can understand why this particular narrative of storytelling may leave certain viewers cold, particularly in the first half of the film, as I felt it myself until it started to click and pick up momentum in the second half to the point the emotional impact that was aimed for worked for me. Yalitza Aparicio gives a great feature debut performance as Cleo and Marina de Tavira gives a really good performance as well as Sofia. I definitely feel the film may have worked better for on me if I viewed it on the big screen rather than on my television. 8/10