Following up his lauded, game-changing Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron has chosen something a lot more grounded with Roma. A passion project for the filmmaker, he directs, writes, produces, edits, and acts as DOP for this deeply personal movie. Following a year or so in the life of a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City – through the eyes of their live-in maids Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia) – it’s a very graceful return to earth for Cuaron.
Both intimately small and sweepingly epic, Roma covers upheaval in the family and in the wider Mexican political context, from a philandering husband to a protest brutally suppressed by US-backed fascist sympathisers. Not once does the domestic story feel like the lesser of the two, Cuaron’s beautiful black and white cinematography lending grandeur to every shot, while incredible sound work immerses us in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Across the board, the cast is superb, especially Aparicio, who carries the entire film with an astonishing debut performance. Every character is well drawn, and there’s a swathe of lovable and layered child acting, brilliantly directed and with a vital easy chemistry with the adults in charge of them.
Roma is a slow burn with very little plot, taking its time to instead build a world, taking care with all its little details. This pays great dividends come the finale, a transfixing and terrifying set-piece involving two small children and a strong ocean current. It’s here that you realise just how invested in these characters you’ve become, a feat of patient and empathetic filmmaking.
Given its clear awards potential, Roma should receive a huge push from distributors Netflix and it’s heartening to know that a high-end, auteur-driven familial drama, heavily featuring the Mixtec language, will get the worldwide attention it deserves.
CAST: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
WRITER: Alfonso Cuarón
SYNOPSIS: A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.