Roma: Film Review

After achieving success with English-language films like Gravity and Children of Men, Alfonso Cauron has returned to his native Mexico for Roma, a family drama on a much smaller scale.

The film, set in Mexico City in the early 1970s, follows a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid working for a middle-class family, which is going through a crisis after the matriarch goes away ‘on business’. Besides looking after the family, Cleo has issues of her own – she is pregnant, and the father doesn’t want to be involved.

Roma will not have the same mainstream appeal as Cuaron’s more recent works because not much happens (given the lengthy screen time), it is in black and white, it is subtitled and about one maid’s journey. I get it – there are moments when I wondered when something was going to happen but there were plenty of other moments when I absolutely adored it and was moved by it.

Cuaron’s most recent films were shot in an impressive way, and though the skill with the cinematography in Roma is less obvious, what with it being on a more intimate scale, there are some beautiful shots, single-take tracking shots and camera choices that made me think ‘wow’. Every so often, the family drama will be interrupted by big things, like a riot breaking out outside a furniture shop or forest fires starting near their New Year’s party. However, the most powerful and captivating shot has to be the single take in the delivery room. I don’t want to say more, but wow.

Aparicio was truly extraordinary. She holds the whole piece together, she is our eyes into the household and you grow to really care for her. She has some properly heartbreaking moments and I was so moved by her performance.

I’m not convinced Netflix is the best place for Roma. I can’t imagine a casual Netflix user clicking on a 135 minute black and white foreign language film, although I’m sure it will be seen more there than in cinemas. I hope people do see it in a cinema so they can truly appreciate the sound design, which can only be done with a surround sound system. Cuaron layers his sound to build atmosphere so we will be hearing what’s on the screen in front of us, but there will be another conversation, or some weather noises, coming from a back speaker. This technique really helps build the world in a 360 way, even though we can only see one portion of it.

Roma is slow going and far too long but it has some real moments of beauty, some extraordinary camera decisions and one heartbreaking scene that will take me a while to forget.

In selected cinemas from Friday 30th November before a Netflix release on 14th December

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