Roma (2018)


Nanny’s always have it rough. So clean up after yourself, brats!

It’s the year 1970 in a Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, which was during a time there was all sorts of political and socioeconomic strife and unrest. It was also around this time that Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) was a maid to a very wealthy family who, despite all their glitz and glamour, were tearing-apart on the inside. The mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), was a constant nervous wreck, whereas her husband (Fernando Grediaga) was barely ever around to really take care of the family, except to allow them to use his money for whatever they need. And while all is definitely fine, dandy and relatively simple, something happens to Cleo that not only changes her life in a big way, but does the same for the rest of the family that she’s the maid for. But of course, there’s more going on than just meets the surface, right?

Is this really a dinner-table scene? Or perhaps, more?!?

It’s honestly no surprise that Alfonso Cuarón is taking a rather small, steady, and intimate story, and putting up against this much larger, much more ambitious, and wider-one, because with Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men, he’s shown that he can do that. What makes Roma a little different, if only by a small margin compared to those greats, is that it feels deliberately made this way and at times, yes, it can be distracting. It’s almost too hard to not peak around and glance at what else is going on in each and every frame, especially since Cuaron has made everything on the screen pop-out at us on purpose. He wants us to look, he wants us to gaze, and most of all, he wants us to be amazed.

And we are. For better, as well as for worse.

Once again, this is a beautiful movie and it’s absolutely another great from Cuaron, but a part of me can’t help but feel like his want and need for absolutely stunning visuals get in the way of the deep, heartfelt story, if only just a bit. You can tell that it’s clearly a very deep and personal story for Cuaron and you also get the sense that he’s painting a portrait of his childhood that he knew best, but you also wonder just how much of this is made as an excuse to just show these grand, sweeping shots that clearly cost an arm-and-a-leg to make, let alone another arm-and-a-leg to actually get the shot done perfectly, with everything coming into this place.

Once again, just like with Gravity, I am impressed with the craft and absolutely astonished with what the man is able to do when he puts his brain to work, but there comes times when I almost wanted him to lay things down a bit less and focus solely on the real story at-hand here: Cleo, the maid. For one, it’s a strong story, because Cleo is a very interesting character that could have been a bundle of cliches, but comes off like a very genuine, fully-dimensional human being who Cuaron may have known and looked up to when he was growing.

Cleo From 5 to the Rest of Her Life

It also helps that as Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio is quite great, in what is apparently her first ever role. Sure, a good portion of her role is just standing there and reacting, but she does it oh so very well that you’re never too sure what it is that she’s thinking, or what’s precisely going on in that head of hers. As the story progresses, we do get to know more of her, which by the same token, means we sympathize with her and want to hear her story much more.

But like I said, Cuaron does get a bit carried away and loses what should have been the main sight.

Does that mean the non-stop praise for Roma is incorrect? Not at all! If anything, it proves that people really do love it when you put much more thought into how your film looks, sounds, feels, than what it’s about and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Cuaron himself knows how to craft a shot and seems like no matter what he does, what story he’s telling, or wherever the hell he’s going to go next, he can’t help but make everything look dashingly beautiful and gorgeous.

But he may also want to take a closer look at his story next time. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just me?

Oh wait, no. It definitely is. Damn.

Consensus: With staggering visuals and craft on-display, Roma proves Cuaron to be a true auteur who knows how to make a shot pop off the screen, but may also get a tad too carried away and lose sight of what really matters, which is the story.

8.5 / 10

Don’t let the smiles and happiness fool ya!

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

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4 comments

  1. Nice review. As a counterpoint to your main criticism, I think that Cuaron is doing a lot of things with this movie. One of those things is putting personal stories in perspective with other tragedies and conflicts that happen around us, and how tings that happen to us that we feel so strongly have a tendency to be overlooked or moved on quickly by others, just as we do with tragedies we see around us. I thin that focusing too much on Cleo’s story without the rest of this context would remove some of what hes saying in the film.

    • Ohh, good point. I found the film frustrating from a character perspective but perhaps I was viewing it with a traditional narrative mindset instead. I think the balance on Cleo versus the external events skewed too heavily in favour of the external at the expense of Cleo as a character, but I do take your point.

  2. Final paragraph nailed it, mate. Cuaron is a technical master, but loses focus on the story and/or characters. My own review next week will expand more on my thoughts, but I found Cleo a character I couldn’t identify with or even appreciate since she seemed more a peripheral character around which stuff happened, rather than an active participant in her own story.

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