Written and Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Nancy García
Roma is the observation of one servant’s time with a relatively well off family in the early 1970’s. The film and story derive from the memories of it’s writer and director, Cuarón, though what role he plays in the story (presumably one of the kids) is not clear, or relevant, for that matter. Cleo, played with alarming clarity by Aparicio, is the focal point here and the irony is tied to the fact that her role in the family is seemingly subservient to those for whom she cares. That she is painted so beautifully and affectionately is a testament to the affect she had on the director and his family.
Using the stark clarity of black and white photography, Cuarón tells the story of the family falling apart around the rock that is the quiet, loving and somber maid. Cleo has her own issues, when she makes a discovery early in the story that will have long reaching affects on her her.
The background of the story is a study of the relatively whiter skin of the family and the darker features of the smaller, mostly indigent native servants. There are remants of the ongoing war between castes that has a profound effect on the country. Even more, there is an ongoing display of women continually being pushed aside by uncaring adult men who go off to pursue their foolish whims.
Through it all we have Cleo, stoic, silent and wide eyed. She is aware of what is happening, even as it happens to her. Her silence is borne of a heritage of accepting life on its terms. She pushes forward and does what she must.
While Cuarón has allowed a propensity for piling the misery upon Cleo and her employer, Sofia (de Travira) this is not a film that is playing for awards. It comes by its feeling honestly. This is a story borne out of love, There is a genuine, if conflicted, affection among the family members, of which Cleo is part.
The story is harrowing. One doesn’t get through this story without several moments of intense feeling of happiness and sadness. This is one of the year’s best films, and it’s the example of a director who is beyond the idea of just telling the viewer what’s happening. His heart and soul are part of the process, but his skill in showing the viewer events allows their effects to settle to the point of being a shared experience.
There are very few film makers that have honed this skill to such a point as Cuarón with so little flash. His talent for cinematography is exhibited this time as he takes over cinematography for 3 time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki and may bring a nomination himself this time.
It’s a tough viewing, to be sure. It is also incredibly rewarding. It is so much higher a level of movie making that one is used to seeing. It’s not the kind of film that everyone could make it through, but it’s the kind of film that is utterly the point for art itself.
(***** out of *****)