Movie Review: Roma

Like a lot of Mexican fans of Alfonso Cuaron, I was filled with anticipation when he began filming a movie in his native Mexico City last spring. I looked forward to seeing the Mexico he would portray on the big screen and whether it would be similar to any of his past films shot there, like Y Tu Mama Tambien. After finally watching it with my family in Mexico City last year, I found their reflections toward the film to be nothing short of striking. Some of my family members grew up in La Roma (the colonia in which the film is set), and they have fond memories of growing up across the street from the Cuaron family. Having this kind of firsthand experience with the movie enhanced its effect. By all means, the film is an extraordinary filmmaking experience in itself. However, having a personal connection with its setting and characters made the film an especially relatable, loving, and emotional experience for me.

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I choose to describe Roma as loving because of its treatment of the film’s characters. The film centers on a family living in 1970’s Mexico City, a time and place where tumultuous forces of change penetrated the country’s landscape. Cleo, the family maid, (and ultimately, much more than just a maid for many families in Mexico) is the protagonist of the film and Cuaron’s portrayal of her is breathtakingly familiar. She is a true embodiment of the soft sweetness of the young, indigenous girls I came to know and love as a young child living in Mexico City. These young women become somewhat of a backbone for many families, including the family in Cuaron’s film. These women come from rural towns and ultimately, their service and care for the home of many families become a source of strength and optimism. Cuaron’s focus on these young women is extremely important in their recognition. Now that he is a recognized tour de force in Hollywood, his visceral portrayal of Cleo and the women she represents will be more visible to foreigners and the public outside of Mexico.

Roma is an ode to growing up in Mexico’s capital city. The film focuses on the family as they navigate personal and political struggles of the era. The painstaking details are all too important in the film. From the diminutive parking garages that are commonplace in Mexico City homes to the political marches of the era, my family members and I were overcome by a sense of nostalgia and longing. Longing to return to simpler times of their childhood while also looking back melancholically at those who were affected by political incidents that marked the country like the Corpus Christi massacre of 1971. Throughout the film, Cuaron looks at his birthplace with a sense of yearning, love, and self-reflection. I cannot stress the importance of this film to Mexico enough. There is a great deal of beauty and difficulty in self-reflection that opens up wounds and exposes past hardships. This film is painfully and stunningly accurate at times, which makes it hard to watch. Roma’s proclivity towards exactitude doesn’t make it a rough film; however, it creates a great deal of respect for its characters and setting.

Shot in pellucid black and white, Roma’s cinematography is astounding. Although I mentioned that I first saw the film on Netflix, I thankfully later watched it in 70mm in theaters. The beautiful, creamy black and white contrast and details were spectacular to witness. There are several scenes in the movie that took my breath away, particularly one in which the camera overlooks a beautiful Veracruz beach. The black-and-white is very important to the telling of the story, where nostalgia and longing set the scene. After painstakingly viewing the details on 70mm film, I’ve concluded that Cuaron would have done a disservice to shoot the film in color.

Roma is, indeed, a movie about life where the plot is somewhat secondary to the story, mood, and setting. There are too many details of the plot that should not be given out to avoid spoilers, but the film is a classically beautiful Cuaron film. It’s a film about remembrance, reflection, and gratitude-gratitude for the female figures in his life and the forces that shaped his country. I can’t think of a better movie than Roma to come out in the last few years.

COVER PHOTO: Indie Wire

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