The Reel Review
Roma is Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s immersive snapshot of daily life in early 1970s Mexico City, as seen through the eyes of Cleo, one of two live-in housekeepers working for an upper middle class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood. The film is based on Cuarón’s own childhood memories of his real life nanny, Libo, to whom he dedicates the film.
Shot in black and white, the film is loaded with gorgeous cinematography and slow, wide pans, all effectively designed to evoke an epicness to his film. And the many subtleties – Cleo wiping the mouthpiece of the telephone before handing it to her employer, laborers battling a forest fire as their wealthy, cocktail-sipping employers look on – are meant to delineate the class and ethnic hierarchy still present today. Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio leads an ensemble cast whose acting appears so effortless, we feel like a fly on the wall of a real family, whom we eventually learn, is in crisis.
Cuarón’s beloved story, however, moves exceptionally slow, with Cuarón so caught up in deifying Cleo that we never really know her, just the noble, one-dimensional image that Cuarón has molded. Art house aficionados and Mexico City residents will appreciate the film’s time capsule comparison of life events of the haves and have nots (the patriarch leaves his family just as a pregnant Cleo’s boyfriend leaves her), the symbolism, and the many well done parts, but most moviegoers will find the sum of those parts to be a pretty, yet pointless exercise in self-indulgence.
• This is Cuarón’s first film since winning the Best Director Oscar for 2013’s Gravity, and his first film set in Mexico since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También.
• During filming, only Cuarón had the complete script. He would give his actors their lines just for that day’s production and would provide conflicting direction and explanation to create more spontaneous chaos onscreen.
• Lido, Cuarón’s childhood housekeeper, is still alive and very much a part of Cuarón’s family.