Review: “Roma”

5 out of 5 stars.

Alfonso Cuarón has had a hand in a number of epic films over the years, from the dystopian movie “Children of Men” to the third “Harry Potter” film to his last movie, 2013’s space thriller “Gravity.”  But it’s the intimate and deeply personal “Roma” that is the director’s greatest achievement to date.

The film is set in 1970 in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood and traces the year in the life of a family, primarily seen through the eyes of their maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).  Cleo works for a middle class family consisting of mother Sophia (Marina de Tavira) and father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), grandmother Teresa (Verónica Garcia), and four children.  The scenes presented indicate that Sophia and Antonio’s marriage is estranged, resulting in Antonio going away for a while.  Meanwhile, Cleo faces her own personal turmoil, all while political unrest is growing in the city.

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo

Cuarón, who wrote as well as directed the film, shoots it in beautiful black-and-white.  Through his cinematography, he makes this small story appear grand, with long takes and wide shots that pan across the expanse of the family’s home.  At the right moment, Cuarón utilizes more intimate close-ups as well to bring the viewer closer to the characters’ thoughts and feelings.  There isn’t a lot of big action in the first act of the film (it does a great job setting up the viewer for the devastating second act in this way), but it’s so engrossing thanks to the richly drawn characters experiencing very relatable, human problems.  Aparicio especially is a marvel.  Cleo is a fairly quiet young woman, but her face is so expressive she never needs to say a word.

“Roma” provides an authentic portrayal of Mexican life, from the loud, crowded city streets outside a movie theatre, to an extended family holiday in the woods, to the relationships between employer and employee, and blood family and found family.  It’s these relationships that are at the core of what the film is about, as, despite their different circumstances in life, Cleo and Sophia share much the same level of trials and tribulations.  But they find that they have each other.  No one in this film is perfect, but they are human, and I don’t think any other film this year portrays that better.

Runtime: 135 minutes. Rated R.

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