Rating: 5 out of 5
Roma has been playing at local arthouse theaters throughout the United States the past couple weeks, and although I was aware of it’s impending release on Netflix (it’s been in wide release for a little over ten days now but I saw it about three weeks ago), my excitement could no longer hold me back from the most talked about film of the year. After the movie finished, I strolled out of the theater cursing myself, wishing I had waited until the film was streamable. The theater experience was incredible, the cinematography is jaw dropping on the big screen, director Alfonso Cuaron is known for his long takes, but never have they been better executed or employed in any of his works than this. No, it was not the manner in which I had ingested the film that made me feel this way rather the fact that I wish I could see it again.
I sit here weeks later with the ability to view the film, provided I have a solid Wi-Fi connection, attempting to collect my notes and thoughts, feeling as if something important happened right before my eyes but I missed the whole thing. It’s intimacy evokes Fanny and Alexander, it’s elusiveness, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, even The Mirror, it’s flow, Daughters of the Dust, like these films, Roma, transposes the inextricable nature of memory, history, place and family for the screen. The story concerns itself with Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid to a middle class family in Mexico and her bond with them. From the beginning it’s made clear that Cleo is much more than just a caretaker to the children and the household, she is also part of the family. The film is dedicated to the woman who inspired the character of Cleo, an actual caretaker from Cuaron’s childhood. He could’ve situated the story from the perspective of the young boy or from Cleo’s, but the camera acts as a wandering yet deliberate observer. In an exaggerated sense, the viewer sits on the outside looking in.
This movie is comprised of a series of intensely specific moments, there connections sometimes purely by association, some bleed into each other in larger aspects than others, but a unique narrative energy takes hold of the film that is absolutely hypnotic. What the story lacks in efficiency and quickness it more than makes up for in thematic and emotional resonance. The world feels so lived in, so active, sadness is redeemed by hope, laughs lead to bruises, for example: the first appearance of the father manifests the funniest scene in the film but his almost immediate absence a few scenes later paints that incident in different colors, he shows his car a kind of care it’s likely his children and wife have never known. To think of this film as a “drama” or a “serious movie” seems a disservice, it only ever gets as heavy and emotional as life allows, with the high and lows structured accordingly.
Roma contains a style unique to Cuaron’s filmography, from Y tu Mama Tambien to Gravity, never have his films felt so focused and acute, the movie has a pragmatism often missing in his work. Even the long, ambitious, tracking shots he’s built his reputation atop, feel of the utmost importance here, everything contained within the borders of the screen needs to be there. Where in past films they’ve felt occasionally gimmicky, here he understands the power of the long shot to force us to look, even when we might not want to. The tracking shots guide our view perfectly to where our eyes need to be, the blocking and framing of the actors is so deliberate and well-choreographed that not a frame feels out of place or overworked.
This movie is probably perfect. In a year of film that has felt dishonest, pretentious, forced and genuinely encumbered, emerges this brave, honest, and magnificently important film. Focusing on the personal tends to warrant and even require a casual dip into narcissism, however, Roma’s commitment to people and relationships is not only refreshing, but life-affirming. This is a two hour and fifteen minute magnification of an important year in the collective existence of a family unit. What group does not know this feeling? A time when every member can look back at recent events almost stunned by just how much stuff happened. Roma feels the same way, once the credits rolled, the ground it covers is staggering, capturing the nature of a moment in that once it has ended, the movie was over, the world ceased to exist physically, but like remembering, the images lingered.