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The Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, whose breakthrough movie Y Tu Mamá También was such a smash in Venice in 2001, and whose outer-space disaster film Gravity did the same thing in 2013, now returns to his native language in complete triumph.
Roma is his best film so far: a thrilling, engrossing and moving picture with a richly personal story to tell, beautifully and dynamically shot in pellucid black and white. It is the tale of Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparicio), a young woman of Mixteco heritage working as a live-in maid for a beleaguered upper-middle class family in Mexico City.
The year is 1971: posters for the previous summer’s World Cup, held in Mexico, are still seen in one child’s bedroom. The title refers to the “Colonia Roma” district and to director’s belief that Mexico City been evolving in the four decades since into a non-imperial grandiosity, a quasi-Rome in its commotion and sprawl, and the streetscape and crowd-scene sequences Cuarón stages are truly stunning, especially his sensational evocation of the Corpus Christi massacre, when around 120 people were killed by the military during a student demonstration.
Cuarón has an extraordinary way of combining the closeup and the wide-shot, the tellingly observed detail – humorous or poignant or just effortlessly authentic – with the big picture and the sense of scale. At times it feels novelistic, a densely realised, intimate drama giving us access to domestic lives developing in what feels like real time. In its engagingly episodic way, it is also at times like a soap opera or telenovela. And at other times it feels resoundingly like an epic.
Cleo’s personal life is beginning to unravel in tandem with that of her employer and Cuarón shows how the household, though placid enough, is under pressure. The tiled driveway, which is shown being mopped clean over the opening credits, is covered in the excrement of the family’s much-cherished dog. The man of the house, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), parks his car in this space with a wearied yet fanatical care that hints at his own unhappiness. His wife Sofía (Marina De Tavira) presides over four boisterous children, Toño (Diego Cortina Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf) and Sofi (Daniela Demesa), but the real work is being done by Cleo and her fellow maid Adela (Nancy García García), who are always eligible for the condescension of class and race but are nonetheless well treated. Antonio keeps going away for what are supposedly business trips and a stressed Sofía one day tells the children it would be a good idea to write to their dad, imploring him to come back. Meanwhile, Cleo has to explain to her dodgy, martial-arts enthusiast boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) that she has missed her period.
Every scene, every character and every shot has been nurtured with loving care. There are lovely set-pieces when the family, uneasily without their patriarch at Christmas, visit an uncle – whose clan have a hair-raising love of guns and go cheerfully off for a shooting spree, with minimal warnings on safety. A New Year’s party in the country is interrupted by a dramatic forest fire – Cleo is the first to see the shimmering heat above the dark shapes of the trees, and it looks at first like a hallucination. The party atmosphere dissolves into panic, but then turns into a robustly determined group effort with someone singing what sounds like a hymn. It is mysterious and beautiful.
Back in Mexico City there is comedy and absurdity, as well as something sinister, in the militaristic mass-workout session that Fermín engages in with his aggressive comrades. Then there is the family’s subdued holiday in Veracruz, with a fateful scene at the beach. Drama and crisis pulse under the crust of normality.
The street scenes are extraordinarily good, and use terrific tracking shots. Even the film’s simplest and most apparently innocuous episodes are electrified by the pure style that Cuarón brings. And the drama comes to a head in heart-stopping, heart-rending style, amid the June riot.
At the heart of it all is a wonderful performance from Aparicio, who brings to the role something gentle, delicate, stoic and selfless. She is the jewel of this outstanding film.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Roma review: Alfonso Cuarón returns to Venice – and Mexico – for a heart-rending triumph | Venice film festival 2018