Another candidate for best picture at the Oscars, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma paints an extensive and evocative picture of social and political unrest in early 1970’s Mexico City, while also providing an intimate look into the life of a housekeeper working for a wealthy family living among the turmoil of the city.
Within the first portion of the film, one can tell that it will be a masterpiece in cinematography. From extensive and breathtaking panning shots to purposeful and intense close-ups, every shot in the film has meaning and is designed to either add to the tone of each scene or dazzle the viewer with incredible visual displays. The story of the movie is told through small vignettes from the perspective of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a housekeeper who has developed a close bond with the family she works for, as well as with the family cook, Adela (Nancy García García). One of the most brilliant aspects of the film is the way the director balances the large-scale events that are occurring during 1971, the year the film takes place, and the day- to- day life of Cleo. It’s incredibly engaging to see how she reacts to events such as student protests, and eventually the infamous Corpus Christi Massacre.
It’s also important to mention how lifelike and vivid the setting seems, which makes sense considering the film is somewhat of an homage to the childhood of Alfonso Cuarón, so he has plenty of firsthand experience regarding the tone of that period in Mexican history. The city is teeming with life, unrest, and at times chaos, while the countryside that Cleo and the family visits feels innocent and fresh, while also alluding to being on the brink of destruction. This becomes especially evident if the viewer knows about the war-like circumstances of rural areas in Mexico at the time.
Although the first quarter to half of the film seems to lack rhythm and plot, it becomes apparent that each scene, situation, and encounter is designed to flesh out the world that the characters are in, and to build up the storyline once it kicks into higher gear. This pacing design seems to be a directorial decision, considering Alfonso Cuarón clearly wanted to meticulously craft a rich and striking environment for the film to play out in. The storytelling style ends up working quite well, especially because of the phenomenal cinematography that keeps the viewer interested.
Overall, Roma is an extraordinary movie that does an excellent job in providing the viewer with a brilliant cinematic spectacle, balanced out by a smaller story about love and family that is sure to tug on the heartstrings.