ROMA – Review
Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuaron (GRAVITY, CHILDREN OF MEN) crafts his most personal film, a realist drama set in 1970s Mexico against a backdrop of civil unrest about the struggles of a family and a beloved housekeeper named Cleo. The Mexican-born Cuaron both wrote and directed this touching drama, a kind of love letter to the women who raised him.
Shot in lush black-and-white, the focus at the center of this film is a young indigenous woman named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who works as a maid/nanny for an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City in the 1970s. Roma is the name of the neighborhood of gated homes where the family lives. Cleo works hard, does her household chores but her real value is in the love she gives the family’s children, who adore her. The household of servants, young children, their mother and a dog exist in a state of warmly-loving mild chaos. The life has its own rhythm and structure that suits the children particularly but it is too chaotic for the children’s father, doctor who travels frequently and returns home to more mess than he can tolerate. As things in the marriage grow tense, the young housekeeper faces her own personal crisis.
This is a beautiful, moving drama is a masterpiece in Spanish andCleo’s indigeous native tongue, shot in breath-taking black-and-white photography in a hyper-real style. Those artistic choices place ROMA more in the realm of art-house than the director’s more mainstream films like GRAVITY. While subtitles and black-and-white may discourage some, this excellent film rewards its audience well, intimately drawing them deep into the characters’ lives and time period, while also lending a sense of gravity and grandeur to moments from ordinary lives. That is not to say the events are ordinary – they aren’t. Wildfire, a city engulfed in riots, dangerous storm-driven surf are among the moments that confront the characters. Instead of the usual music score, the film’s soundtrack is filled with heightened ambient sounds and motivated music – that is, music from radios, passing street musicians, or a band at a party.
The acting is remarkable in this drama. Particularly effective is Yalitza Aparicio, the non-actor playing Cleo. Her still, sensitive face is the perfect canvas to reflect and balance both the sadness and joy she and the family experiences. It is a striking performance that is garnering talk of awards. Especially touching are Aparico’s scenes with the children, and her quiet dignity in accepting the difficulties she must face.
It is hard to do justice in words to the sense of majesty and significance Cuaron manages to create for these ordinary lives, yet the sense is there in the finely crafted images. The fact is, the film really just needs to be seen to fully appreciate Cuaron’s artistry in making the everyday seem profound.
ROMA opens Friday, December 14, at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars