There are some films that are simply difficult to describe. (And consequently, make my job as a reviewer more difficult. Well, not ‘job’ per se, but, hobby. You know what I mean.) ‘Roma’ is one such film. Shot in black-and-white, it opens in a district in Mexico City in 1970 and focuses on the life of a housekeeper for an upper middle-class family. Nothing particularly outstanding happens to her over the course of the film. It’s a sharp contrast to a comment I made in a recent review (for ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’) in which I pointed out that many films are made that tell interesting stories. But in taking a less focused scope overall, the film can make broader statements.
For starters, even though it’s in black-and-white, the film is gorgeous. Each shot is meticulously crafted, from the opening shot of the tiles to the closing sequence. Alfonso Cuaron has directed some impressive films before (Gravity, Children of Men), but ‘Roma’ might be his crowning achievement. He’s able to capture not only the scene, but also Cleo’s (the protagonist) place in it. Furthermore, some of the sequences that take place are simply astounding. The entire film is a large testament to Cuaron’s skills.
Of course, those skills might be wasted if he didn’t have a talented cast to work with (especially a lead). To say it was lucky that he found Yalitza Aparicio, in her acting debut, is an understatement. She is a revelation as Cleo. She can act, to be sure, but it’s more than that. She brings a warmth and a subtlety to her performance that is incredibly rare to find. Her deft portrayal and Cuaron’s masterful direction are the perfect team to really bring the “slice-of-life” aspect of ‘Roma’ to life. It almost makes it feel like a home of sorts; for a film to achieve that is truly an achievement.+4