18 December 2018 | j_c_ortiz
A story about life. Through a compelling lens
Review of Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma"
It has become expected of Alfonso Cuaron to create a deep emotional and personal connection with the audience, through strongly developed characters and complex but familiar stories combined with often elaborate cinematography, involving music and plenty of symbolism and metaphor - as he did in previous films such as Children Of Men, Y Tu Mama También and Great Expectations - in his latest showing "Roma" he might have taken it a step further.
Sometimes subtle and sometimes bold, Cuaron brings you deeper than his other films by shooting in wide format to focus you line of sight and then punch you with memorable scenery, in a low contrast black and white to distract less from the storyline, in mostly natural lighting to make you feel familiar to the environment, with still shots or slow basic camera movements that framed the entire family rather than one character so you'll know is not a story of someone rather that somethings, and with sound production that is so intricate and so masterfully recorded and mixed that is worthy of is own review (and an Oscar).
And as far as the story... while your first impresión of Roma might be of a documentary, Cuaron only referenced his upbringing while propelling into a much broader story. And while it may seem lengthy, it's merely just long enough to to carefully present the details.
Roma is not so much a portrait of the once opulent Colonia Roma of Mexico City but largely a display of modern society, specially of the role of women, with all their joys and sorrows, their influence over men and the influence of men over them which happens to be destructive at times.
The global appeal of this story is subliminally injected trough the casual passing of an airplane, the karate practicing boyfriend, the the summer home family outing with an American family or the fathers work trips to Quebec but mostly with the story not focusing so much on the idiosyncrasies of Mexican culture but on the very broad appeal of the events of the film. he alludes to the broader appeal in a scene were the family is watching on TV, two astronauts struggling in space, reminiscent to his film Gravity, where we were at the edges of our seats by events that none of us will ever experience while Roma is so personal that is sure to strike a chord with anyone breathing.
Cuaron presents all of this through the story of Cleo, a indigenous house maid for a wealthy Mexican family in the 70s. Throughout the film we're presented with the social disparities that plague not only Mexican society but global. Such as in a scene where Cleo prepares a soft boiled egg for one of the children and as she shakes some salt on it, the child takes the salt shaker and pour his desired amount on the egg. Cleo deeply cares for the children and they love her as well but this scene clearly shows us how the children as much as they may respect her see her a mother figure they also have entrenched their role of masters. Or when Cleo was welcomed into the family room to share a tv show with the family and as she sat down one of the children embraced her only to be later asked by the mother to make a tea for the man of the house. You see the Mother embrace and comfort Cleo as a member of the family and the children tell her they love her as she tucks them away while later taking out family frustrations on her.
And while these disparities exist, Cuaron also shows how we are also all alike. By a forest fire at the summer home where both the wealthy and the help end up trying to extinguish the flames. In a scene worthy of cinema history by the way. A scene so loaded in meaning. Where all of us were united against the fire. Or when Cleos relationship deteriorates at the same time as the Mothers. They both suffer loss and betrayal in levels devastating to each and that only brings them closer and makes them equal.
This is a film about many aspects of life and in many beautiful scenes we metaphorically see how life continues in the face of disaster such when babies are saved from falling debris from an earthquake by the incubator they're sleeping in. Or when we see street vendors pass by as the family is braking apart. But we see this even brighter towards the ending of the film where despite the hardship endured by the family, where the mother facing her new life with four children with her head held high and where Cleo is forced to face her deepest fears and accept her reality, they all drive on.
It is not a coincidence that this story of struggle is depicted through the experiences of women. Cuaron clearly places women in their rightful place as pillars of an ungrateful society. Throughout the film you see Cleo scooping up the dogs poop and washing the floor from the garage so the master doesn't run it over with his big fancy car. The message couldn't be clearer.
This film places women of all walks of society in a common trait. That of the carriers of life.
Alfonso Cuaron has always succeeded in bringing us films that are as emotionally connecting as they are visually rich. Is this a masterpiece for him? Maybe. For cinema? Most likely.