All the trademarks of Alfonso Cuarón’s most popular work is carried over to his latest film “Roma;” there’s long uninterrupted takes and stylish, innovative visual style. The movie’s most remarkable feature, however, the thing you’ll remember long after viewing, is its humanity.
Set in the Roma section of Mexico City of Cuarón’s youth, this semi-auto-biographical slice of life plays like a sense memory, a dream. Although based on his early childhood Cuarón focuses the story on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), maid to a middle-class family. She raises the kids, cooks and cleans up after the dog who cannot seem to stop pooping. Dutiful, she loves the family as if they were her own, a feeling that is mutual despite their occasional dismissiveness.
The family is like many others, rambunctious kids barely kept in line by Cleo and her boss Sofia (Marina de Tavira). The father, a doctor who always seems to be away at a medical convention—a cover for his philandering—is mostly absent. Cuarón lovingly details Cleo’s daily routine at the house and even spends time on her off hours as she goes to the movies with her intense boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero).
It’s a slice of life, not plot driven. It feels like a recollection of the long-ago time brought to life. When crisis comes both for Cleo and Sofia the power of their humanity and family solidarity comes to the fore.
Shot in beautiful black and white this Spanish language film is a tribute to Cuarón‘s second mother, the maid who he dedicates the film to.
It may put you in the mind of other movies like “Amarcord,” films that could be described as intimately epic, telling stories about people set against a backdrop of wide societal change. It is picturesque but occasionally horrific, naturalistic yet heightened, a film as a snapshot of a place and time and its people. It drips with empathy and affection for its characters, particularly Cleo, played by first time actor Aparicio. She grounds the movie with a performance that is both warm and stoic, never once betraying her character’s fundamental sense of decency and humanity.
Movies like “Roma” don’t come around often anymore. Daring in its simplicity and lack of sentimentality it has the power to devastate and uplift, sometimes in the same scene.