Roma is a film shot in gorgeous black and white about Cleo, a domestic servant to an affluent family in 1970s Mexico. It stars Yalitza Aparicio and is written, co-edited, photographed and directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
I struggle with how to start this review as most of my readers will likely not see it as I saw it. I spent the money and took the time to go and see it at a movie theater. There have been other critics or cinephiles who have strongly encouraged this viewing style and as I heard the scoffs and giggles of the folks around me as the Netflix logo appeared, I realized it may be become revolutionary or counter cultural to see certain movies on theater screens. It may be almost as strange as sitting down at a specific time on a specific day to watch one episode of a television show with commercial interruption and waiting a week to find out what's next.
I write all this to express that I am so thankful I made the choice to see the film in a theater. Roma, while it does have its main characters, is so much. There are things and scenes happening constantly in the space around our protagonists. The background character movement is dynamic, it's a thousand small stories playing out that we get glimpses of as the camera moves with or waits for our protagonists.
If I hadn't had that large, lustrous screen to see it, I may have missed these subtleties, these tiny human dramas inside the larger picture. I would have also not caught the full breadth of the best dolly shots and tracking shots in the business. These shots are so long and so complex and so steady. The movement is a tight circle or block after block of busy streets or just following a character through the mud of a small town. Cuaron's impeccable eye for detail is on full display.
Which is all to say it takes nothing from, but only adds to, the incredibly human and indelibly universal story of Cleo. Her heart breaks, her happiness, her calm compassion all play out wonderfully through Yalitza Aparicio's performance. There are naturalistic and deeply method performances that actors are able to evoke, but Aparicio is alive. She lives inside this performance as if it's all she's ever known.
And if all you think of this film is drama and heart ache, then prepare to be surprised because it has an incredible sense of humor, too. I love the nude martial arts scene, the incredible revenge on a cheating husband's prized car, and the silly kid logic of dreaming past lives and getting frustrated by siblings. All of this to praise Cuaron's intelligent, beautiful script.
What Roma is more than anything is a portrait of Mexico virtually unseen by American audiences. It's a study on life in all its aspects. It expresses the beauty and the heartache of a people so stereotyped and lumped into one, inalienable group because that's all we've ever known. Roma is different than any Mexican narrative you're likely to have seen and it demands to be seen.
I won't even do a "you should see this if" here. You should see Roma. Whether you choose to go to a theater or get wrapped up on the couch, you should see it. Let it wash over you and give you an experience in life and superior filmmaking.