Very few modern filmmakers could be said to have never made a movie that isn’t great. Even some of the best of all time, like Steven Spielberg, have made some mediocre or just plain bad films in their day. But filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón have somehow had a perfect filmography, and Cuarón continues this streak with Roma, his new Spanish-language film that may just be the best work he’s produced. Roma is the story of a poor nanny in Mexico City who becomes pregnant and must deal with the consequences of her actions alone, especially since the father of the child disappeared as soon as he got wind of the pregnancy. Don’t let the plot description make you believe this film is simply about an unwanted pregnancy however, because it is most definitely not.
One of the primary reasons that this film is one of the best of the year is the amount of passion that Cuarón injects into the film. Not only does he direct it, but he writes, edits, produces, and directs the cinematography, all of which are magnificent. Cuarón based this film off of his own childhood, in which he had a nanny that heavily influenced his life, whom he considers just as much a part of his family as his actual family. Nothing is better in film than when a director/writer intertwines his own emotions with the characters in the story, and Roma is a prime example as to why doing so is a great idea. I was not aware of the personal connection Cuarón had with the film the first time I viewed it, but I could still feel it reverberating off the screen. So much care was put into all of the various little details, that the audience can see clearly the amount of passion on display.
Not only does Cuarón direct the movie masterfully, but he also is on point with his casting. Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, the nanny who oversees a family that loves her, and she had my eyes glued on the screen for the entire runtime. Her character is not especially emotive; for example, when she discovers she is pregnant her reaction is neutral and subdued, and not much time is spent on it. This makes the emotional moments near the second half of the film hit with that much harder of an impact. Aparicio, however, doesn’t need a powerhouse Oscar scene to deliver one of the best performances of the year–all the audience needs to know is written through her actions and facial expressions.
A complaint I can already foresee coming about Roma is that nothing happens. (Time for an arrogant movie critic comment.) If you come out of this film thinking that nothing happens at all, then you probably weren’t paying attention. This film is all about the details in each shot. Cuarón includes a great amount of foreshadowing in the first half with subtle acts which feel just like run-of-the-mill gestures, but completely change context when the end of the film comes around. The movie is also jam-packed with metaphor, which makes Roma easily susceptible to multiple viewings because more will be noticed with each rewatch.
Near the beginning of the film, the father of the family arrives home after a day of work and his car barely fits in the tight garage space. The space between the sides of the Ford and the sides of the garage is mere centimeters, and the father uses a great amount of precision to fit it into the tight space. This could be representative of many things depending on the interpretation. Some might say it shows the father barely fitting into the confines of the family structure, because, after all, he leaves for good soon following. However, I believe the car is a physical representation of his controlling presence in the household. Yes, it barely fits, but it needs to be somewhere that can contain it, just like the father also has a desire to be somewhere else. Later in the film, the mother attempts to back into the garage with the same car and ends up wrecking the garage due to the tight space. The father has left by this point, and without his presence, she cannot operate the vehicle that he represents properly. So what does she do? She buys her own car and paves her own path without a man’s presence to hold her back. And guess what? The car fits perfectly.
This is just one of the ongoing metaphors that Roma contains, which start at the very first shot and end at the very last, both of which contain a plane crossing the sky in the background. Cuarón’s attention to detail here is remarkable, which should make him an early frontrunner for the Best Director Oscar. The cinematography is also remarkable, with his decision to film in black and white holding him back no more or less than his excellent use of CGI in Gravity. There is a scene on a beach near the end that is one of the most beautiful pieces of film in the past couple years, and I still have no idea how he pulled it off in one shot.
It’s awesome that Cuarón is forcing Oscar voters to watch a culturally relevant film that is completely in Spanish, and that gives American viewers an insight into the true culture of Mexico: the good and the bad. Roma immediately silences all of the haters saying that Netflix is not worthy of making quality films like the rest of Hollywood by being one of the most meticulously crafted pieces of work in decades. This film may not be for everyone, but if you are on Netflix searching for a genuinely great movie, look no further.
I give Roma an A+.