What does a director like Alfonso Cuaron do when he’s already crafted and received accolades for such prolific Sci-Fi masterpieces as Children of Men and Gravity? He plunges into his past to share a piece oh himself with the director’s most personal film yet. Acting as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and producer on the project, Roma expertly utilizes the entirety of Cuaron’s skillset to pay tribute to the memories of his youth, honing in on his former housekeeper. With such raw emotion, and intimacy we are invited into the lives of Cleo, the housekeeper, and the family for which she is employed by - experiencing the love and sorrow of a closely connected family crumbling at the foundation. Alfonso Cuaron puts forth a beautiful cinematic work of art that will warm your heart only to break it, crashing down with authenticity and sincerity.
As the title suggests, Roma takes place in the Roma district of Mexico City during the 1970s and follows a family and their housekeeper. Based mostly on Cuaron’s own memories of his upbringing and parents divorce, we experience this family in disarray through the eyes of the housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who is predominantly raising the children through the madness, yet experiencing her own journey of uncertainty after discovering she’s unexpectedly pregnant. As merely a voyeur orbiting the events, the audience is taken in great detail through the daily lives of the characters and the gradual change that engulfs them as a result of these destructive occurrences.
And I use the word orbit quite literally. Through some of the most luscious and rich black and white cinematography ever put to film, Cuaron shies away from more traditional close and medium shots to instead implement a wider approach. He utilizes many simple and organic camera movements such as gingerly panning the camera back and forth across the canvas with such smoothness; it’s as if he’s seamlessly stitched together a series of landscape photographs. Cuaron keeps the audience at a distance, only allowed to witness the memories unfold as they already have. We’re a fly on the wall, taking in every juicy detail, derailment, and character interaction from the outside. What further adds to this effect is his decision to tell the story through the lens of the housekeeper.
Cleo adds the 3rd person perspective to the story that Cuaron would not have been able to give had he chosen to recount the series of events from the viewpoint of his childhood self. Cleo is played so honestly and realistically by Yalitza Aparcio in a spectacular debut performance. Aparcio somberly conveys the motherly love and affection she has for the family of the house, being the much-needed support system during a devastating divorce. It’s a nice juxtaposition to her own uncertainty of preparing to be a mother to an approaching newborn. She ironically doesn’t feel ready and gradually as the film progresses gets into the mental headspace that she can in fact succeed. It’s rather miraculous how Cleo is able to be such an integral piece to the reassembly of the family while experiencing her own strife and speaks volumes about the woman Cuaron was honoring. The fact that Aparcio is able to effortlessly sway from one emotional end of the spectrum to the other with such subtlety is a testament to the ability of this striking talent. Be sure to look for her name come awards season.
When you put it all together, Roma plays out like a projection of the childhood recollections that shaped Alfonso Cuaron. The delicately gradual pace, meticulous attention to detail and an emotionally riveting story with such range it couldn’t possibly draw from anything other than real life. It’s unlike anything the director has ever crafted before, further solidifying him as one of the best working filmmakers today and showing the profound power of memory.
Toronto International Film Festival Review: Roma
Production Companies: Netflix
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Enoc Leano, Daniel Valtierra
Rated R, 135 Min
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