NYFF Review: Roma

(Cuaron, 2018)


Roma follows a year in the life of Cleo, a maid for a family in Mexico City in the 1970’s. Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity) has described this film as his most personal ever. Suffice to say, it is also one of his best. Cuaron won the Oscar for Best Director for his previous film, Gravity, and he will probably be in that same conversation again for Roma. And you can pretty much lock this one down for a win in the Best Foreign Film category.

While there are a few twists and turns in the story, Roma is a slice-of-life film that relies on character as opposed to plot to drive the movie forward. Because of the film’s slow pace, it takes a little while for the audience to connect with the characters and the world of the film. But that wait ultimately pays off as Cuaron crafts a masterful collection of characters that audience can connect to, especially Cleo (played by first time actress Yalitza Aparicio in a wonderful, subdued performance).

This film marks the first time Alfonso Cuaron has worked as cinematographer as well as director. His usual cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who won an Oscar for Cuaron’s Gravity, was not available for filming. This seems to be an appropriate role for Cuaron, since he has stated that ninety percent of the scenes in the film are taken from his memory. His black-and-white cinematography is gorgeous, finding beauty in close-ups of everyday tasks and using extremely long takes to create a few genuinely suspenseful sequences.

Earlier this year, Netflix acquired the rights to the film and will be distributing it on via streaming and in theaters (opening on December 14th). This distribution method is bittersweet because, on one hand, it makes it easier for the average moviegoer to see the film. But Roma does take a little while to really get going, and with how easy it is to switch off a movie on Netflix, who knows how many people will sit all the way through. Additionally, one of the best parts of the film is its sound design. In a movie theater with surround sound, the film’s soundscape creates an immersive experience. You can feel the waves crashing all around you on the beach. You can hear the kids behind you talking about the TV that sits on the screen. These elements, along with the film’s gorgeous visuals, would be greatly reduced if viewed on Netflix, especially if you’re watching on a laptop or smartphone. So if you are able to see Roma on the big screen, do it. At least for your first viewing. ★★★★½

Karol Nowak