Roma is perhaps one of the most personal films I’ve ever seen. Many films are out there attempting to recreate something that will emulate reality, but in Roma everything is so specific and intimate that it couldn’t be anything other than an autobiographical work. Granted, what is being told is a small part of whether or not a film works, and Roma benefits from the mastery of writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron, who has crafted what is without a doubt one of the best looking films I’ve ever seen.
Set in Mexico in the early 1970s, Roma follows a family over a few months time through the perspective of their young maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). The silent, black and white approach gives the film a sense of intimacy that few films have ever reached; we feel as if we are intruding on private moments, and Cuaron’s cinematography is so elegant and potent that each frame could be studied like a great work of art. The motion of the shots is slow, and each scene feels like its own vignette, a personal memoir lifted directly from Cuaron’s own life.
I can’t say enough good things about Yalitza Aparicio, the first time non-actress that takes the role of the maid. The entire ensemble is filled with impressive performances, particularly from the child actors, but Aparicio in particular is absolutely perfect; we feel how she’s been accustomed to this world, and the untraditional way in which she fits into the family is without a doubt the film’s most effective undercurrent.
It’s hard to review a film like Roma, and I’m not sure if I’d be able to do anything other than repeat the countless praises that the film has received since its festival debut months ago. I think Cuaron’s films resonate with people because they feel fresh and new; nobody thinks to tell stories this way or from this perspective, and his ability to elevate the medium is part of the reason films like Children of Men, Gravity, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban work so well. With Roma, its less of a statement and more of a soliloquy, a personal memory brought to life in the most vibrant of ways. Grade: A+