“Roma” was written, directed, produced, edited and shot by Alfonso Cuaron and stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Jorge Antonio Guerrero. The Spanish film is a view into what Cuaron remembers from his childhood, and is about Cleo, a maid to a family faced with new struggles, who is facing issues of her own in an effort to make a life in Mexico in the early 1970s.
Cuaron is one of the most groundbreaking directors of the 21st century, so anything he puts his efforts into gets me excited. But for Cuaron to put his hands into nearly every facet of this film — the movie is named after a neighborhood from his childhood — showed how much of a passion project this movie truly was for him. Also, it’s hard to ignore the boatload of critical praise this movie has been given, with many critics naming it the film of the year, only adding to my excitement once I was finally able to get my hands on it.
For a movie shot entirely in black and white, “Roma” is an absolutely stunning visual cinematic experience. Cuaron is known for his excellent camerawork, but usually he is assisted by the likes of Emmanuel Lubezki. This time, he is doing it himself, and Cuaron finds a way to use a variety of panning shots and stills and turn them into gorgeous pieces of art. There’s something simplistic, yet powerful about the way this movie is shot, and it perfectly goes with the style of Cuaron’s direction.
This direction style Cuaron gives is one that clearly has a sense of passion and patience for the progression of the film. Cuaron does a terrific job with developing his characters and giving justice to his past in a way that feels anything but in the past. This story works in a way that can hit home to anyone who watches, but in a way that Cuaron makes sure to feel specific to his town from Mexico.
A film like this takes a big performance from its’ lead, and Aparicio gives “Roma” exactly that. Aparicio electrifies in her debut, giving one of the most subdued, but exceptionally emotional performances of the year. Similar to Timothee Chalamet’s work from “Call Me by Your Name,” Aparicio works in the small moments, portraying her struggles through only subtle facial expressions, which makes it feel all the more real and in the soul.
Sometimes, it’s just a treat to watch someone who has a clear passion for what he is creating, and that is a case with Cuaron’s work here. The nuances, the clear understanding of the inner minds of the characters involved, it all makes for a film experience like few others this year, and it is all because of the care that Cuaron puts into nearly every facet of the movie.
Where everything truly comes together is in the final hour of the film, which is one of the best pieces of filmmaking all year. There are still plenty of subtleties to be found, but because of Aparicio’s terrific performance along with Cuaron’s ability to develop this storyline, everything builds up to a phenomenal finishing act.
For as well made and well executed “Roma” is in so many facets, it still struggles when it comes to pacing. There’s a lot to be said about a slice-of-life film that plays itself as so realistic and so subdued, I understand that. But there’s also something to be said about this still being a movie, and it can be a boring one at times.
More so than anything, the first half of the film is incredibly slow and is hard to focus on because of how little is going on. Yes, it’s a slow build and yes, these characters become people I care about later on, but the sluggish nature of this movie makes it take way longer than it needed to. Cuaron does a lot of great things here, but that didn’t stop me from nearly falling asleep in the first hour of the movie.
“Roma” is, in many ways, a cinematic feat worthy of all the praise it has received. Cuaron has beautifully encapsulated his childhood memories in a stunningly emotional, down-to-earth film that has a tremendous performance leading the way. It has many highs, and a fantastic final half, I just wish it didn’t have to start out oh so slow. I don’t need explosions and over-the-top moments, but I need to be able to grab on to something, and that just takes a bit too long here.
Still, “Roma” is a tremendous work of cinema, and one that deserves respect for what it was able to accomplish by being to the heart and full of passion