Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writer: Alfonso Cuarón
Actors: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
It’s been around 5 years since we heard from Alfonso Cuaron. His ambitious film Gravity back in 2013 had many people excited for what he was going to tackle next. Many including myself expected something as grand if not bigger than Gravity. He needed to top it off. He surprised us all by coming out with his most personal film yet. A film that shines in its simplicity. I heard a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding this film. I was looking forward to watching it and seeing what everyone was talking about. I sat down a couple of days ago and watched it. I was enamored by the films simplicity. It is the type of film that is made for me. Simple human stories with a lot of emotion and passion ingrained into the work. To my surprise, I felt a bit disconnected from the story and the characters. It is not like I did not understand or “get” what was intended. It’s just one of those things where it just doesn’t click with you. That isn’t to say the film is bad. On the contrary, it is a VERY good film. It just did not connect with me as much as I would have hoped. Maybe it is the hype surrounding this film and the reactions that people have had. I don’t know what it is. Anyway, I will not let that cloud my judgement because this is a film that needs to be praised.
Roma takes place in early 70s Mexico. It follows a maid working for a middle class family in the city. The films first half presents a very innocent and simple story about a normal family in Mexico. The father is a well renowned doctor, they live in a fairly sized house and the kids have all they want. Cauron gives us hints of the real story here and there but nothing drastic. The first act sets up the characters. Lets us know how they behave and act during normal days. It gives time for the audience members to connect with them and to understand them. Personally I felt this was the crux of my disconnection with the characters. Because the first act seemed to drag on for a while and did not present anything to me that built the characters for what is to come. I felt more connected to them after certain events happen. I would prefer with these character driven films that viewers connect initially so that the impact is more effective as they get into trouble or downfalls. Obviously I may be the only one who feels this given the amounts of praise the film is getting. But to me the initial buildup and introduction of the characters felt stale compared to the wonderful followup.
As the film progressed, we see the story getting more and more complicated with the introduction of new elements. Slowly we realize there is something wrong with the father. He isn’t on a trip to Canada, and the viewers are kept wondering what is wrong. Cuaron keeps feeding us subtle clues but never outright says it until near the end of the film. Furthermore, we see Cleo becoming romantic with someone she barely knew. The real turning point of the film comes when she discovers she is pregnant. That is when I started to really connect to Cleo. You could feel her pain as she asked whether or not she would be fired because of this incident. What follows is a great series of events that show what sort of character Cleo is. She does not shy away from what is right. She goes miles just to find the father of her child, who has since abandoned her, just to be rejected in a cold way. She is constantly put through struggles. But she never breaks, she never quivers. Her employer comes home drunk and screams at her for not cleaning the dog poop does nothing to her. She pushes through. Even when she gives birth. Which was an incredible sequence and something I haven’t seen before in film. She was rock solid. Did not break down even as she held her dead baby. This all culminates into what I think was the climax of the film. The delivery scene was not the climax to me. The climax was the scene at the beach, and it is fitting that it was chosen as the poster for the film. Because it is the only point in the film in which Cleo’s character breaks. She lets it all out. She doesn’t hold back for once. She wails “I hoped he was never going to be born”. That is such a difficult thing to say, especially for people in the 70s. However, the film was culminating to that moment. It built this character that is so strong that nothing phased her, yet she finally broke down. And watching her breakdown was heart wrenching. It tugged at my heartstrings and was a great moment in the film.
Roma is a beautiful film. It is one that deserves the praise it is getting. Because it tells a human story through its simplicity. It never tries to be something its not. It gives it to you straight, and raw. I also feel like the choice to have the film in Black and White elevates that aspect. It keeps the story grounded in reality. It is not sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes life is hard, and that is okay. As I said, my main issue with the film stems from the first act feeling somewhat long and dragged. This is my opinion on first viewing obviously. It may change if I watch again with preconceived knowledge on what will happen in the film. Nevertheless, this is a film that is worth seeing and something that deserves all the attention.