Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

Less a film than it is a two and a quarter hour slice of hyper realistic, deeply immersive life, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma weaves a transfixing, masterful spell by imparting to us one year in the lives of a Mexican family circa early 70’s, through the eyes of their shy, courageous and compassionate maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Cuarón is partial to lofty special effects, tricky camera work and experimental sensibilities, all of which make their appearances here but in quite a different capacity than expected. The shots (he served as his own cinematographer and it makes the film all the more personal) are used as living visual canvas for these characters to dwell in, the pace is languid yet never slacks, there is no score or soundtrack to speak of and the result is something so lifelike and authentic that I felt if I paused it to take a piss it would just continue on without me, free from the commonplace vibrations of what we are used to in cinema. There’s a remoteness to the storytelling here, but nothing in the way of warmth is lost; as anti-melodramatic as it is, the film meanders through the lives of these people with a fly-on-the-wall intimacy, remaining at arm’s length in terms of the drama yet stemming right from the heart as it shows the events unfold. All of the actors except for one are virtual unknowns, and there’s an organic cadence to their performing language that’s so unique, especially in the case of the children in the family, who take sort of a backseat to Cleo and the parents, despite the film being semi autobiographical. Aparicio too has one sole credit with this film, but her work as Cleo would have you believe she’s been at it for years. She’s a radiantly magnificent pillar of support for the family, surrogate mother and caretaker whose deep, soulful eyes harbour a fierce modesty. It’s when we start to see the heartbreak, struggle and triumph of her own personal life that the film truly takes hold, this is her story and from moment to moment, we are captivated as to where it will take us. Cuarón shoots in incisive, elemental black and white and after seeing the film it’s hard to imagine another choice of palette. The visual aura combined with shooting techniques and hyper realism make it seem like the closest we’ll get to a time machine in cinematic form, like a temporary window into his hazy memories of the past, accessible for an entrancing few hours and then gone again like the dream it is, culled straight from Cuarón’s potent memories of growing up as a child. I was unfortunately to busy to catch this in its theatrical run here, but on a large enough screen at home with every light switched off and the volume cranked, it still works it’s magic beautifully. A minimalistic tone poem that speaks volumes, a quiet masterpiece from Cuarón and one of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

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