Steve and Simon have been making sure they’re across this year’s Oscar contenders. Roma has been out for a while on Netflix, and Simon took his time to see it. It was, he says, well worth the wait.
This is a wonderful example of a storyteller respecting the story he is telling. Here, writer director Alfonso Cuaron uses time, care and an incredible attention to detail to envelop us in a saga of Cleo, a working class maid working for a middle class family in Mexico City at the end of 1970. With no melodrama, no soundtrack, but beautifully constructed and filmed scenes, Cuaron draws us into a story which plays out with utter realism and no little drama. Having said that, Roma (the title comes from the name of the neighbourhood in Mexico City in which it is set) requires some patience. If you are used to the pace of modern day thrillers and superhero fare, Roma may take some adjusting to. It will ask you to take a deep breath, and, just as Cuaron’s camera takes its time with its slow pans across its scenes, it asks you to take your time to absorb it.
Any patience you can muster will be richly rewarded. Cleo, or “Manita”, as her fellow maid calls her, is utterly part of the life of the family she works for and lives with. The story shows us challenges both in Cleo’s own personal life and in the life of her family, and how this adversity strengthens the bonds between them, in spite of their ethnic and class differences.
There are some compelling scenes, from the almost comically absurd “Professor Zovek” and his tutelage of aspiring martial artists on a football field, to the gripping events of the June 10 Corpus Christi massacre (a real life event) and the ensuing heartache of Cleo’s dash to hospital.
The acting fits the story very very well in that for the most part it doesn’t feel like acting. Debutante Yalitza Aparicio is the first indigenous Mexican to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, and she carries the role with great dignity and a deep sense of realism. So too does Marina de Tavira as Senora Sofia, also nominated as Best Supporting Actress. At the time of writing this review I have still to see the nominated actors in all the selected films, but both these women would be worthy winners. (And if the Academy is feeling politically frisky, having Mexican winners in America’s premier film awards is a not too subtle dig at Trump and his depiction of Mexico’s criminals)
As for writer director Cuaron, send an Oscar or two his way while you’re at it. He has a tremendous eye for a camera shot, and for letting action unfold before you. The simple reveal of a plane in water being used to wash up tiles in the opening sequence is one example, and the tracking shot following Cleo into the waves near the end of the story is uncomplicated but breathtakingly tense.
And Cuaron’s decision to show us this story in black and white serves to highlight all the details he presents us in his scenes. I doubt any set designer or props manager could ever have seen their work so eloquently depicted on screen.
Roma is more than two hours long and, again, this is no standard rollicking drama. But give it some time, and it will be a story to stay long in your memory. Very highly recommended.