Cuarón’s most personal film to date is one of 2018’s very best, a testament to cinema’s power to capture life, memory and emotion in this restraint if audacious work.
Dir. Alfonso Cuarón
2018 | Mexico | Drama | 135 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish & English
M18 (passed clean) for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Plot: A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s domestic worker in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Awards: Won Golden Lion & SIGNIS Award (Venice). Won 3 Oscars – Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography. Nom. for 7 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at the special Netflix-Singapore Film Society screening)
In what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I saw Roma on the big screen with a very special post-screening dialogue with writer-director Alfonso Cuarón. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget that evening—thanks to Netflix and the Singapore Film Society for making it possible. Well, what can I say about Roma? There’s no question it is one of 2018’s very best films and one of the most indelible cinematic experiences of recent years.
Cuarón has not made many films in his illustrious if chameleon-like career, seesawing between commercial Hollywood fare like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Gravity (2013), with more indie efforts, notably his artistic breakthrough at the beginning of the Mexican New Wave with Y Tu Mamá También (2001). His finest film so far, in my opinion, is Children of Men (2006), a dystopian sci-fi studio movie with indie street cred. But all of these bring us to Roma, which no one can deny is Cuarón’s most personal work to date. It is as if all his accrued experiences as a filmmaker have led him to this momentous moment, where he could finally be free to make that ‘homecoming’ film he so desired.
“Mountains are old, but they’re still green.”
Roma tells the story of a year in the life of a middle-class family and their domestic worker, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio in an incredible performance). Set in the early 1970s in Mexico City, Cuarón’s film balances the travails of daily slice-of-life exposition with larger societal, sometimes sociopolitical, encounters. As he puts it, it is a film about a family, a city and a country.
But most of all, as he elucidated in the dialogue, Roma is a film about space and time, capturing life and emotion as they come about naturally, much of which from Cuarón’s memory of his childhood. There’s some restraint and intimacy going on here, a far cry from his other ‘spectacles’, though the film’s inherent dramatic and historical weight means that it is challenging to put it on a leash for long periods. Cuarón might not care to admit, but Fellini would have been proud.
Roma is a testament to cinema’s encompassing power and Cuarón’s innate ability (through aural-visual storytelling, particularly his careful attention to composition and ambience) to immerse viewers into a distant past with such artistry, and in a few extraordinary ‘set-pieces’, such masterful audacity, that it is impossible to come away from the film not feeling having gained anything. At 135 minutes, Roma is fairly long, but it never stretches ahead of itself; instead it gives us just enough to want a little more.