Setbacks don’t define us, but how we respond to them does. In 1970’s Mexico City, the Roma district is home to a particular middle-class family led in part by Sofia (Marina de Tavira), an educated wife and mother of four children dealing with some marital strife with husband, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), often gone for weeks on end for business. The other leader of the family is maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), of whom the kids appreciate and confide in.
Quickly, life deals both poor hands. As the two push forward into murky waters, they must lean on each other to rediscover who they are and what they must do.
Very few directors are their own brands, event viewing whenever they’re attached to give their vision to a film. After his three most recent films in Children of Men, Gravity, and now, Roma, Alfonso Cuarón can safely be put onto the shortlist, if he were not already. Using personal inspiration to the nth degree, Roma is incredibly detailed and spectacular in a lot of ways. Not all ways, but certainly a high number of them.
Gravity won him the Best Director award, but Roma is arguably the more impressive feat. His direction is razor-sharp precise, whether it’s the type of shots employed, or the distance used within them to convey specific ideas. It’s somewhat difficult to put into words how immaculate Cuarón’s feature truly is, but, one knows they’re in for something special once the opening credits previously thought to be one thing are revealed to be another. He lines Roma with many unforgettable scenes, more so in the second half. Cuarón’s effort here, in which he doubles as director and cinematographer, is probably the closest representation of directorial Zen that anyone is likely to see in 2018.
All of that is a long way of saying that Roma lets its director tell the story and build the emotion in his visuals. Little, if anything, comes in the way of that; Cuarón even chooses to do away with a score. It’s extremely personal and most of this production was built straight from Cuarón’s memories. And yet, there’s a level of significant detachment that exists within Roma. That is not to suggest there are no raw feelings in Roma, but for a significant portion of run time, the investment is tied to the arresting camerawork. An audience can marvel at memories, but it is hard to truly understand them as they can be singular and shackled to the originator that holds possession of them.
Patience is needed, as it takes about a third, possibly a half, for Roma‘s narrative of family reinvention and rebirth to take shape. But when it does? Boy, is it powerful, featuring two standout scenes as wretchedly harrowing as any seen to this point of the year, with the black-and-white aesthetic adding a stark element to it all. In her acting debut, schoolteacher-turned-lead actress Aparicio flows with the waves of the script. So too does the veteran de Tavira. If their performances come off as slightly off, keep in mind that only Cuarón knew what he was after. Everyone else? Left somewhat in the dark, effectively making Roma a pseudo-improvisational autobiographical drama. Truly impressive.
Geniuses aren’t always meant to be understood. Sometimes, we’re simply just asked to revel in the mastery of their craft. There’s a genius that helms Roma. Revel in what he does.
Photo credits go to impawards.com, vox.com, indiewire.com, and slashfilm.com.
For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com.
Follow me @MovieManJackson/@Markjacksonisms