Review: Roma (R)

Truly a masterpiece of modern cinema.

Matt Troher, Editor-In-Chief


Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is a film that is somehow both larger than life, and extremely personal. It’s an evocative portrait of life paired with breathtaking and symbolic imagery, truly a masterpiece for years to come.

The film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in housekeeper in 1970’s Mexico, and her upbringing set against a backdrop of a politically tumultuous Nation. Cleo works for Mrs. Sophia, a mother of four and a wife in an increasingly strained marriage. Cleo’s relationship with the family’s children is made clear and serves as the backbone of this poignant film that thrives on human relationships. As the film progresses, a series of tragedies unfolds in the lives of both Cleo and Mrs. Sophia, two women who are seemingly alone but find solace in each other and their shared family.

In addition to the story being told, “Roma” serves as Cuaron’s love letter to both the homeland and the women that raised him. Born and raised in middle class Mexico, the setting and relationships presented in the film nearly perfectly mirror those in Cuaron’s own life. The reason the film is so lifelike a is due to the fact that Cuaron has, in a sense, lived it himself. The director’s life was shaped by powerful and strong women, much like the characters in “Roma”. To do due justice to this, Cuaron not merely directed the film, but undertook the tasks of writing, prodcuing, editing, and seving as chief cinematographer himself. The care put into the film is evident, the finished product nothing short of a modern masterpiece.

“Roma” is a slow burner. Cuaron purposely takes his time setting up the story, and boy does it pay off. Unlike Cuaron’s previous films, thrillers such as “Gravity” or “Children of Men”, you’re not going to be hooked right from the star. Instead, the director opens the film with stark slices of life, building a world with lifelike realism. The maid cleans up after the dog, cooks breakfast for the children, and washes the family’s clothes — not the most exciting of openings — but made beautiful through the realism of it all.

Shot entirely in black and white, the film is a masterclass in cinematography. Every shot a painting, perfectly framed to ensure maximum symbolic value. Seemingly inconsequential items and events are made exquisite through Cuaron’s lens. Stark imagery burns its way into the eye of the viewer, grandiose vignettes of personal life made all the more impactful by the poignancy of the shot.

As award season approaches, “Roma” as already begun to break barriers, and will hopefully continue to do so. Lead actress Yalitza Aparicio, a former preschool teacher, came into her role with no acting experience nor formal training, yet still delivered the most visceral performance I’ve seen all year.

Aparicio has caught the eye of the Hollywood and global media, most recently appearing on the cover of Vogue Mexico, one of the first indigenous women to do so. It’s no coincidence that her appearance of the cover of the Mexican magazine came shortly after the election of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who’s platform puts an emphasis on indigenous issues. Aparicio’s newfound star-status serves as a reminder of Mexico’s changing political landscape, and that representation does matter in all forms.

The Academy Awards have not always had the best relationship with foreign films, often containing them to their singular category and blacklisting the works from other, more prestigious categories. Will this finally be the year a foreign film takes home the coveted Best Picture? “Roma” is certainly the film most deserving of the honor. Not only is it easily the best film of the year, but “Roma” is a decade-defining film with its harrowing and stark take on a life story.

At its core, “Roma” is a human story, and the most compelling story to hit the big screen (or perhaps the small screen, considering the film was first distributed on the streaming platform Netflix) all year. Joining the ranks of works such as “The Godfather” in the global movie canon, “Roma” is a film to be studied for years to come, and is cinema at its finest.