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Is this the film that Alfonso Cuarón has been yearning to make all his career, or all his life? It certainly looks like the apparently difficult, non-commercial, personal work that only someone with a vast accumulation of prestige could get made. Every richly considered detail looks as if he spent a great deal of time honing it. Roma, based on his own childhood and set in a well-to-do household in early 70s Mexico City, is Cuarón’s return to his roots after high-profile English-language movies such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the dystopian nightmare Children of Men and most recently his glorious outer space adventure Gravity. In fact, Cuarón gives a hint in Roma of what might have inspired this previous film when some characters go to a cinema in Mexico City to see the 1969 sci-fi adventure Marooned, with astronauts floating off into deep space.
It is a great piece of storytelling, sympathetic and intelligent, with inspired and surreal setpieces and electrifying sequences in the teeming streets of Mexico City, in which I think the beautiful black-and-white cinematography has facilitated digital work visually, modifying and fabricating the period details. It is a very involving story, in which there are these extraordinary moments of excitement. And then, just when you think you have got the measure of its tone, Roma blindsides you with something desperately sad, and an aftermath that gives a catharsis for this sadness.
Non-professional newcomer Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, the live-in maid who is of Mixteco heritage and occasionally speaks her own language and not Spanish – about which one of the children complains: “Stop talking like that.” Her private life begins to unravel in tandem with that of her employer, Sofía (Marina De Tavira) whose husband has abandoned her and the kids – and she is in denial, a process with which Cleo is effectively expected to help, along with all other domestic duties. For her part, Cleo has to inform her boyfriend, a dodgy martial-arts enthusiast, that she has missed her period.
Cleo is much loved within the family. Even when Sofía loses her temper with her, or treats her harshly, it is obviously just a symptom of her own marital breakdown and she will apologise immediately, and emotionally. The truth is that in being such a rock, Cleo is being the responsible figure that the children’s father is not. Both Cleo and Sofía know what it is like to have men who let them down. The difference is that Cleo has an extra load to bear: a secret pregnancy, as well being a quasi-parent to these children. This is the powerful narrative which licenses byways into wonderful incidental moments, such as the family’s Christmas trip to some relatives who are into guns, and treat everyone to an uproarious shooting party out in the country – and then a New Year’s Eve trip to some other in-laws, including a Scandinavian family called the Larssons, where there is a bizarre, almost dreamlike forest fire. Only a storyteller of enormous confidence could handle what might otherwise feel like pointless digressions. But they are dazzling visually, and every moment reveals something in both Sofía and Cleo.
The distinctions of race and class are everywhere in Roma, not in fact in the dramatically overt snobbery and racism that Cleo might face in another sort of film, but rather in a thousand tiny assumptions about her servitude, which are there even in her employers’ quite genuine kindliness and concern. The point is that her own innate dignity and moral generosity make her equal to anyone with whom she is in contact. This is her heroism.
What have we missed? Tell us about your favourite film of 2018 and why you are voting for it in the form here, including the moment or plot point you think was most memorable. We’ll publish a selection of readers’ contributions before the end of the year.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The 50 best films of 2018: No 1 – Roma | Film