'Roma' film review: A sublimely intimate epic
The quietly heartbreaking drama 'Roma' (now playing in select cities and streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 14) is an epic on the most personal scale.
In short: A year in the life of a middle class family and their housemaid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) living in Mexico City during the early 1970s.
Writer-director Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a story that is as difficult to summarize as it is utterly captivating. 'Roma' is infused with such meticulous detail and nuance that it feels intimately personal. This is not merely the story of a pregnant young woman - 'Roma' fleshes out a rather unstable world, filled with sudden natural disasters and simmering civil unrest, where simply becoming pregnant threatens to upend Cleo's simple, domestic life. This film slowly but surely coils tighter and tighter - until it abruptly explodes.
As 'Roma' progresses through some seemingly mundane events - such as an afternoon date or family breakfast - Cuarón drops hints that something menacing is forming in the background for the family and the city. These small breadcrumbs of dread pay off in the most emotionally devastating and harrowing ways. Cuarón's film contains virtually no melodrama - instead it allows small, routine moments to combust dramatically. And the key these abrupt moments is the film's deliberate, patient pacing - the film is comprised of long, immersive takes. They establish routine and expectations - only to violently subvert expectations later in the film. And perhaps most cruelly, Cuarón reserves the longest single-takes for the film's most harrowing moments.
This stark and personal film is best experienced on the biggest screen possible. For a film without crazy special effects, explosions or massive set pieces, 'Roma' belongs in the cinema and not relegated as a streaming-service exclusive. Netflix was wise to release this theatrical gem in select cities, if only for a limited time. The cinematography is exquisite - just about every single shot in this film could be framed and hung in a gallery.
The key to 'Roma' is Cleo - this is a story of a turbulent era in Mexico's history as well as one family, told through the eyes of a meek house servant. While the family she works for vacations at estates during the holidays, her family and people reside in slums. She is integral to the family's daily life, yet she is scolded for not picking up all the dog's droppings.
Perhaps the film’s only weakness is the patience its asks of the audience - an attribute that seems inherently dangerous given its home on Netflix. The opening is a prolonged shot of the sky reflected on water - this effectively re calibrates the audience, informing viewers this is not a fast-paced drama filled with quick cuts. 'Roma’ demands the audience’s rapt attention - which is easier gripped in a movie theater than watching it at home, curled up comfortably under a warm blanket.
Final verdict: 'Roma' is a delicately told masterpiece of cinema worthy the title of best foreign language film of the year - as well as a strong contender for the best film of 2018.
'Roma' is now playing in select cities and streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 14. This drama has a running time of 135 minutes and is rated R for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.