Five years is a very long wait for writer-director Alfonso Cuarón to bring film fans his next movie. Roma is his first film after directing the sci-fi blockbuster Gravity, which earned itself six Academy Awards including Best Director for Cuaròn. Netflix is really pushing for a huge Oscar contender. Does Roma have a chance of being a big deal come award season?
What’s the Story: In this semi-autobiographical drama, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. Delivering an artful love letter to the women who raised him, Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst the political turmoil of the 1970s.
Out of the movies that were coming from the streaming service, Roma really looked convincing. Not only because of Cuarón’s involvement, but this has some creativity thrown into this. This also looks to be a huge movie to come out at the end of the year. This also came out when it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. But either Roma was gonna be a masterpiece or very pretentious filmmaking catered to the indie crowd. Luckily, it’s not the latter. Though I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece, Roma is beautifully crafted in ways that would seem impossible to accomplish.
The duties handled while making Roma means he wasn’t playing around. Not only was he the writer and director, but he co-produced, co-edited and was the cinematographer. And you can see throughout this 135-minute movie that this is a passion project for him to finally come true since I believe this was sorta based on his life growing up in Mexico City. This was kind of harking back to his Y Tu Mama Tambien days where it’s all in Spanish and feeling like a grounded story without making huge at any moment.
The camera movements are pretty simple when it consists of long takes and panning shots that might feel a bit lazy, but it shows the environment from the family’s home and the outside world. For a movie shot in black-and-white in its Entirety, it makes me feel like you’re in that time period. The best thing about this usage is that it didn’t feel artsy just to be artsy. Roma feels like it could’ve come out in 1970. Of course, everything was in color back then, it was a great touch feeling like another world.
The cast is a lot of non-professionals. If you look at the list of actors, I’m pretty sure none of the names that appear are recognizable. Aparicio was the real breakout star throughout. She’s just a teacher before staring in this and she is in a role that’s genuine real without giving any thought. Her character is the only we really follow through and we see how her life starts to change after a surprise that came unexpectedly. Marina de Tavira is the only one who’s an actress as she plays the mother and she was also great.
One of the many elements that I can appreciate a lot more in movies nowadays is some good cinematography. Is what was presented in here great? Absolutely. The 65 MM cinematography presented in here was probably the most stunning pieces of imagery I’ve watched all year. Cuarón being the Director of Photography was an interesting choice considering that Emmanuel Libezki is his usual DP. But Cuaron captures some breathtaking shots and placing it over black-and-white in post-production feels like a painting. The kind that can be framed and put on a wall. And it was an interesting choice to not included a musical score in the long run, which helps the film feel in its place and not becoming in the way of the emotional scenes. Most of the sound design is used for the background noise that felt natural.
The central plot of the story doesn’t go the way a normal movie like this follows, and because of that, I was wondering where it was going or what it was mainly about. But the atmospheric setting around who’s rich and poor around these characters and the challenges that comes with everyday life back then. It almost makes it interesting to feel a strong connection to what Cuarón was hoping to push forward to the people experiencing this from Cleo’s perspective.
Is Roma gonna be for everyone? I wouldn’t say so. If you don’t care for subtitled Foreign Language films, this won’t change your mind. It’s gonna take you a few minutes to stink into this world without acknowledging that the characters are speaking another language. Also, much like Cuarón’s other films, it does suffer from a slow burn during the second act, which I kind of expected. I think it’s because sometimes it can be difficult trying to grasp the story, even though it’s trying to push the story forward. I did have to stop the first 20 minutes because I did start watching it late, and finished it later on when I had nothing to do.
But I did appreciate the pace the more I thought about it. There was a moment where it did start to lose for a quick second, something happens in here, which I won’t spoil, that felt completely unexpected, that it honestly made me cry for how real it was and it could happen to anybody.
This is Netflix’s best movie to be released from them this year, and believe me, most of their original movies haven’t impressed me. If this goes well, not only could we see Roma winning Best Foreign Language (and it’s an easy lock in that category), but could it be the first non-English speaking film to win Best Picture? It’s a close race between this and A Star is Born for the heavy prize.
By the end of Roma, I really enjoyed this more as time passes on. Not as much as everyone where it’s on their Top 5 of the year, but it’s a stunning flick that Netflix should be proud of releasing on the service and in theaters to capture a better experience.
Roma is definitely a slow burn, but Alfonso Cuarón puts in so much passion and immense effort into this drama that feels personal to him. It’s beautifully filmed, authentic, and stays with you to no end.