Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: The most personal project to date from Academy Award (R)-winning director and writer Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien), ROMA follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. Delivering an artful love letter to the women who raised him, Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil of the 1970s. Cuarón’s first project since the groundbreaking Gravity in 2013, ROMA will be available in theaters and on Netflix later this year.
Considering how sparingly Cuaron makes his films, you better believe that when one of them comes out that it becomes must-watch film. Looking at the last two movies he has directed, needless to say he could make a film about paint drying and he could find a way to make it larger than the world around us. With Roma, Cuaron goes back to his Mexican roots in a foreign-language film which depicts the life of a family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Graphically intimate and giving us the pleasure of seeing the film debut of Aparicio in the lead role, Roma should not be turned away due to its Spanish dialogue or black and white film choice, as those who watch it will be rewarded with one of the most authentic and emotional movies of the year.
The film follows Cleo (Aparicio), a maid for a wealthy family in Mexico City. During her time, we see the dynamics between these family members shown in great detail as well as her relationship with her boyfriend Fermin (Guerrero). The thing that makes this film so special is that it focuses on showing us the life of the family first and then building the plot around it. Specifically in the first half, we learn a significant amount about the struggles that each person is going through and the dynamics between Cleo and the family she serves. While the family treats her as if she is one of their own, Sofia (Tavira) makes no mistake that she is there to do a job and will hound her when she is not completing her tasks. I could not help but notice that the family was cast with lighter-skinned actors while the lower-class workers were predominantly indigenous looking. I am not sure if this is intentional as a glance at the overlap between race and class in Mexican society, but if it is, good on Cuaron and the casting director for sneaking that little detail in there. Roma is full of little moments of symbolism and subtle motifs like the constant presence of airplanes overhead or the black and white filming choice, and while they can be interpreted many different ways, the fact that they are present shows how much Cuaron cares about this film. When the movies shifts in the second half, it is able to do this so drastically due to how established these characters are in the first half. If you are Mexican or know your Mexican history, you know what is coming and the tragedies that follow. I had no idea what was coming, and it made it that much harder to process. What helps convey these emotions is the performance of Guerrero as Fermin. While he is not on-screen for very long, he is on long enough to make you absolutely hate him. It is safe to say he is one of the most unlikable characters of the year and may end up as one of the most despicable characters of the decade. While Guerrero shows us just how truly evil a person can be, Aparicio’s performance in the second half is one the most captivating of the year with just how emotionally attached we are to her character. All you want is for Cleo to have the best outcome for her life and when that does not happen, we feel the pain that she is feeling. I am not someone who cries during movies, but my jaw was on the ground through most of the second half due to Aparicio’s performance and for someone with no acting experience this performance is absolutely remarkable. There are multiple scenes from this movie that will forever be ingrained in my memory and this is almost exclusively due to the way Aparicio handled this role.
Overall, Roma beautifully combines elements of tragedy and frames it in a way where we can easily identify this is a story founded on love. Whether this is Cuaron’s love for his country and city, Cleo and Sofia’s love for their families, and Sofia’s children’s love of their own lives, you can feel just how much everyone involved cared about this movie and that they genuinely care about one another. From the way it was shot, edited, and acted, Roma is a passion project that ends up being one of the best films of the year and a true testament to what talent and passion can do in the right circumstances.
Overall Score: 10/10