“ROMA” is a fantastic voyage back into the memory of Writer and Director Alfonso Cuarón. It is a lovingly filmed remembrance of his childhood, growing up in Mexico City. His family had a live-in housemaid who becomes an essential member of the family. He pays honor to her, and also to his own mother – both were strong women faced with difficult circumstances. But he has done so by creating this movie, which is an artistic bonanza of talent and beauty. Alfonso Cuarón has already won an Oscar, actually two (2014 “Gravity” – Academy Award for Best Director and Best Film Editing). So he did not have to prove anything. But Cuarón was busy with “ROMA”, working as Writer, Director, Co-Producer, Co-Editor, and Cinematographer.
Beginning back in 1970 and going through 1971, “ROMA” follows a middle-class family in a section of Mexico City named Roma. The mother Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and the father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) have several young children. To help them with this unruly brood, they employ a young woman named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). She comes from a poor family out where the indigenous native Spanish live. But Cleo has been around with the family for many, many years, and she deeply cares for all of them. Also living with them is Teresa (Verónica García), who is Sofia’s elderly mother.
Antonio leaves on a ‘business trip’ to Canada, but the tears from Sofia show that there is a much more ominous reason. They have had marital problems, and he is leaving the family. Cleo steps up to be more supportive, and Sofia needs that support. But Cleo has a boyfriend problem. She has met Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) who is a very blunt and tough-talking guy. He has big plans for his future, and she woos Cleo with his martial arts skills. But Cleo becomes pregnant, and soon Fermin disappears. She makes a trip out her native village one day, to try and contact him and let him know her situation. But he rebuffs her, and says he has better things to do.
There are exams in the hospital for Cleo, where an earthquake rumbles the entire area. There is a New Year’s outing to Sofia’s relative’s house. It is fun time, until there is a forest fire near the house, and everyone runs out to help stop the fire. There is even help from a man in bear costume who sings a Mexican folk song. There is Cleo and Teresa who go out one day to purchase a crib for Cleo’s soon-to-be-born infant. However, there are street protests and some students are injured and killed. Some of the pursuers chase some people into the store, and Cleo sees that one of the thugs is Fermin.
Cleo is about to give birth during the street riots. The hospital is complete chaos. Cleo finds out that her baby is stillborn, and never had a chance to live. Sofia decides to take all of the kids and also Cleo out on a vacation to the ocean. She lets the kids know that their father Antonio will not be back home to live with them. Cleo is sad about her lost baby, but it is even more difficult for Sofia right now. The kids play in the ocean, but get caught in a strong current. Cleo, even with no ability to swim, goes into the water to make sure they are safe. Cleo becomes even more important in the lives of this family who live in Roma…
This movie is filmed in black and white, and it is almost 100% Spanish language. Many parts are very languid and easy-going. There is a simple story structure and it does not have a whole lot of details in the plot or the delivery. But each scene is constructed in such an artistic way that the movie is beautiful to watch. The sound design is very precise and detailed. A scene of Cleo in the ocean is overwhelming when the waves come in higher and higher. You can hear the roar of the ocean bringing more and more danger to her character. There are some scenes where small details in the background just seem to be astonishing. Such a man shot out from a cannon at a small village fair. Or the scene where the family is eating ice cream, but the main action is in the back where there is huge wedding reception. Or the look out of a window at small store, and seeing hundreds of people fleeing and fighting in the streets. The attention to every detail is very impressive.
Alfonso Cuarón has used “ROMA” to make a statement about the two special women who had raised him as a child. He is taking the memories of his childhood and giving them new life on the Big Screen. But soon, it will be also on the Not-So-Big Screen. After a limited release in theaters, he will also get it released to streaming service Netflix. Some people are not too happy with that. But it will give many more people the chance to see this movie. Perhaps that will gain him the following and the goodwill to spark another Oscar. This time for Best Picture.
Opens December 6th – in Phoenix area, exclusively at Harkins Camelview