In Roma, Alfonso Cuaron turns his attention to the marginalized of society and to the messy process of creating family. This was a theme I saw cropping up a lot in film in 2018, most especially and obviously in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters. But this movie doesn’t have that films ultimate despair and sorrow, though Roma is an emotionally draining and sometimes difficult watch. But as he focuses on Cleo, a maid for a wealthy family, Cuaron finds grace in the mundane and the everyday. Cleo is played with a quiet minimalist naturalism by Yalitza Aparicio and I loved the way the film spends a lot of its time letting us see the stories of the characters around her from the sidelines; we slowly come to understand the family she works for as their story unfolds largely off-screen with us catching glimpses of their story as Cleo does. As the film progresses, Cleo begins to develop her own story and the film presents her to us as a young woman that is so much more than she even realizes. We start to understand that she’s special even as she remains completely clueless as to her own strength and grace. Cuaron brings a really beautiful visual style to the film. It’s shot in some of the most beautiful black and white photography I’ve ever seen and I wish I’d managed to catch the film in its brief theatrical run. Cuaron’s camera is slow and methodical and he’s interested in seeing his characters in context of their environments and communities. There are few close-ups. In supporting performances, Marina de Tavira is particularly good as the mother of the struggling family Cleo works for. Jorge Guerrero is also quite wonderful in a small, but incredibly memorable role as a brief boyfriend of Cleo’s. He has a lengthy monologue that he delivers during a work-out routine that is . . . um, shall we say unforgettable? And a word for the canine superstar of the film, Borras, a dog that doesn’t win the Movie Dog of the Year award because he has the misfortune to be in a movie the same year as a movie literally called Isle of Dogs. The film is meandering and slowly paced to a degree that some have found maddening, but I was able to slip into the film’s rhythm without much trouble and the cumulative emotional impact of the film is undeniable. There are several long sequences that are incredibly striking, beautiful and deeply moving. A sequence involving a guru of sorts leading his followers in exercises is bizarre and compelling, with a beautiful final shot. Later, a single static shot carries on, unblinking, as a medical procedure is carried out and the climax of the film involves a beautiful shot of characters and the ocean. This isn’t exactly a plot-heavy film, but still I’ve tried to be vague because there are some kind of surprising moments that I was glad I wasn’t aware of going into the film. Ultimately, I understand why many find the film challenging, but for those with the patience for a few slow spots, the film delivers a profoundly strong emotional punch that left me deeply moved, with tears, not just in my eyes, but literally rolling down my cheeks. It’s something of a spiritual masterpiece, a film that, as far as I’m concerned, is as perfect as any film of 2018. Cuaron captures the quiet strength and depth of a simple life well lived in a beautiful way. Sometimes, just by walking through the mundane everyday of our lives, we can become more than we know. 4 stars.
tl;dr – visually gorgeous, wonderfully acted and deeply moving, this story of the virtue and power of a simple life well lived lingers long in the memory. 4 stars.