Roma Review

Roma follows the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparico), a young indigenous housekeeper working for a middle-class family in Mexico City during the early ‘70s. Partly based off Alfonso Cuarón’s own childhood, Roma is an ode to the woman who helped raise him. Reflecting on a perspective of his upbringing that is different to his own, Roma brings forth the troubling truths found in family homes that often slip past a child’s recognition. Cuarón examines class structure, abandonment, and the sensation of familial love, creating his most personal and poetic film yet. Relaxed with its structure, Roma revolves around Cleo discovering that she is pregnant. Around the same time, the family who she works for starts to fall apart, needing Cleo more than ever. It’s an emotive tale, investigating into what family truly is and who gets to be in it.

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma (2018)

Photo © Carlos Somonte 

Taking on a whole new meaning to neorealism, Cuarón borrows some stylistic and thematic tendencies from the movement – notions of social reality, first time actors and long takes (the latter already being a staple of his). However, to this he adds a generous amount of detail and helps modernise the movement with a more complex and attentive approach. Cuarón gives a platform to the working-class indigenous woman’s voice without patronising her or centring his own experiences first. Here, he produces a deeply sensitive and understanding tale; projecting the reality of colourism and class-structures in Mexico.

Roma is not an outwardly brash or flashy film – yet it’s certainly not dull or lacking power. Some truly shocking moments are packed into the film but without an air of melodrama or theatrics. They mostly shock due to the realism of their horrific nature – what is on screen feels as if it is happening before our very own eyes. Instead of forcefully amplifying such events, they are quietly woven into the frame to crop up at the most unsuspecting of times. Roma here quietly ruminates on such events, only to then swiftly move on – as life does.

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma (2018)

Photo © Carlos Somonte 

Cuarón eases between the everyday nonchalant ongoings of life and the most extreme, heart-wrenching tragedies that can occur in a lifetime. And for that, every occurrence feels all the more real. He portrays the sweetest moments between humans, taking a playful and loving approach to what it means to be family, while also simultaneously serving up the devastating heartbreak that follows once such a love is gone. Switching between pregnancies and earthquakes, from friendship to political riots – Roma’s tone is constantly switching between quiet joy and chaos. When we find ourselves enjoying a charming scene of generosity and connection, not before long, something will come along to dampen our spirits. However, this doesn’t come about in a way that is jagged or forced, but merely in a way that is a nod to the unpredictably of life and love. Every sequence flows together naturally and with vitality – Roma in itself is filmmaking with a living, breathing pulse.

Roma (2018)

Photo © Carlos Somonte 

Another way in which Cuarón’s childhood comes to life is through the film’s vivid sound design. Devoid of a score, the audience’s ears are filled with blaring car horns, barking hounds and screaming children – capturing the bustling life of Mexico City. Such nuanced and engulfing sound helps to envelope a viewer into the film, making Roma to be more of an experience than a viewing. There’s one particularly great scene where Cleo is visiting her local cinema; upon leaving, she realises something terrible. As she walks out the cinema, an explosion of sound appears – bustling crowds, men loudly attempting to flog cheap gifts. Here, Aparico’s talent really shines, delivering a harrowing performance of a quiet, confused sorrow as she tries to get her head around what hardship had just been dumped on her – while also meandering through a chaotic and apathetic space.

Marco Graf and Yalitza Aparicio in Roma (2018)

Photo © Carlos Somonte 

Roma is undeniably a film infused with vitality and essence – breathing new life in what it means to be human and to be loved. This is a film that both shocks and soothes the soul, opening new wounds to an audience as it shows how humans can deeply connect over both joy and trauma. Roma is a refresher course on what emotive cinema can be; contending how sometimes the ‘quieter’ films, with less theatrical flair or gimmick, can make the sharpest, most profound and emotionally in-tune statements on what it means to be alive.

Rating:5 stars

Written by Abi Aherne

Edited by Sanja Struna

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