Every year, usually during awards season, there seems to be one film that emerges above the rest in its capacity to be talked about for all its elements. These works achieve a harmonious marrying of impressive performances, beautiful camerawork and a sense of social importance. Last year’s example was Call Me by Your Name, Moonlight the year before, and so on … Roma is this year’s artistic triumph.
it isn’t perfect, and occasionally risks self-indulgence, but Roma is a credit to its creator, its country and its industry
Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical portrayal of a year in the life of a housekeeper in Mexico City is heartfelt, honest, occasionally distressing and ultimately deserving of the near-universal acclaim it has garnered. It represents an emotional moment of reflection in the career of a director known for his affinity with science fiction and proves a powerful watch for any admirer of cinema for its ability to beautify the seemingly-mundane. It isn’t perfect, and occasionally risks self-indulgence, but Roma is a credit to its creator, its country and its industry.
The story follows ‘Cleo’, in a compelling debut performance from Yalitza Aparicio, as she navigates the struggles of her own life as well as those of her employers, a middle-class family enduring the aftermath of a divorce. Cuarón never sensationalises events nor dwells on the individual experiences of his characters, rather his cinematography captures the necessary moments of emotion, humour and contextual unrest in equal measure, crafting a fascinating yet convincing picture of life in 1980s Mexico. It isn’t a quick watch, nor an easy one, but there are so many parts of its creation to admire that it demands your attention without ever becoming a chore. This is largely down to the director’s mastery of the camera; he employs creative methods of filming that ensure the most monotonous of scenes are transformed into a demonstration of his ability behind the lens. The opening sequence, for example, sees the camera focus on wet floor tiles which become – by virtue of the lens’ positioning – reflective to the sky above. Birds and planes cross the screen while the camera remains pointed to the floor, and the scene evolves into a dichotomy between the tedium of housework and the hustle of the outside world.
it’s an evidently-artsy move and won’t appeal to everyone, but it nevertheless differentiates Roma among the safety of this year’s cinema
Cuarón likes to use this trick a few times – at least, he likes to linger by the ordinary at every opportunity. For the most part, this achieves the desired effect and undeniably confirms his gift for camerawork. Occasionally, though, his commitment to dazzling the viewer with technique wears thin. Watching Roma is like having a guided tour through an art gallery; everything you’re looking at is unquestionably beautiful, but sometimes … sometimes you wish things would move a little faster. The monochrome filter helps the film in two ways. It gives the setting a timeless quality – the story could feasibly take place anywhere in the last 50 years – which serves as a mechanism for emphasising the ubiquitous issues of family turmoil as well as the monotony of domestic duties. It also underlines the fundamental power of the moving image; 10 minutes in, and the black and white film may as well become glorious technicolour. It’s an evidently-artsy move and won’t appeal to everyone, but it nevertheless differentiates Roma among the safety of this year’s cinema.
Yalitza Aparicio is fantastic in the lead role; it’s the emotion of her mannerisms and ability to dictate subtle facial changes that establish her as an exciting new talent – Cuarón has discovered a diamond in his lead actress. So too is Marina de Tavira excellent in her portrayal as the firm-but-fragile Sofía, the mother of four who is unexpectedly thrown into her role as head of the family. It all feels very real, which is, you would think, the point of any film – and it’s the performances that anchor this sense of authenticity. Roma is bold and brilliant, a masterful picture that succeeds almost without a hitch. Just when we thought the period of Mexican-directed dominance was beginning to slow, Cuarón comes roaring back to remind us of what it means to be a filmmaker. Expect awards aplenty.