Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”)
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”)
There’s no denying the beauty and timelessness at the heart of Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal drama “Roma.” It’s as close to cinematic poetry as you can get, and Cuarón, with an expert-level attention to detail, places us at the center of his story — watching, listening, waiting, and cherishing every delicate moment.
As with all his past films — whether taking audiences on a road trip through rural Mexico in his 2001 masterpiece “Y tu Mamá También” or floating through the vastness of space in 2013’s “Gravity” — there is an intimacy in Cuarón’s work that is unlike any director making films today. It’s never been more apparent just how meditative his voice has become than with “Roma,” an autobiographical film based on his childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s and told from the perspective of the woman who helped raise him — his nanny Libo. (Yalitza Aparicio plays a fictionalized version named Cleo.)
In Cleo, Cuarón has created a character of pure devotion and human spirit, and Aparicio delivers a restrained, albeit passionate, performance. In “Roma,” Cuarón examines Cleo’s relationship with the middle-class family who employs her and the complex social dynamics that keep them separated. In comparison, Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert’s 2015 film “Que Horas Ela Volta?” (“The Second Mother”) does a better job presenting this theme, but Cuarón’s emphasis on a single character’s experiences is admirable as we observe Cleo not only performing tedious tasks but also comforting the children who are witnessing the dissolution of their parents’ marriage.
From a technical standpoint, “Roma” is second to none — from Cuarón’s brilliant direction and first foray into the role of cinematographer (usual collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was not available) to the meticulous production design by Academy Award winner Eugenio Caballero (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). The black-and-white 65mm film Cuarón utilizes gives an epic feel to the picture, and his tracking shots reveal a landscape full of life that is oftentimes overshadowed in other films by the shiniest object in the room. Instead, Cuarón makes the ordinary seem remarkable — soapy water gliding over a stone floor, laundry hanging from a clothesline, a lizard scurrying across the dry earth.
Appreciate what Cuarón has constructed with “Roma.” Like other recent image-heavy films such as “Tree of Life,” “Dunkirk” and “The Revenant,” what Roma lacks in standard narrative substance, it makes up for in Cuarón’s skill as a visual storyteller.