Roma is a semi-autobiographical look at director Alfonso Cuaron’s upbringing in Mexico City’s Roma neighbourhood in the 1970’s. Seen through the eyes of maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) it tells the story of a middle class family, which starts to fall apart when the father leaves to be with his mistress.
At the same time Cleo is going through her own struggles. After falling pregnant is she is abandoned by her boyfriend, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) and must deal with the emotional and societal impacts that come with preparing to be a single mother.
Roma is not going to be for everyone but I have a real soft spot for this kind of slow, moving, hyper real, slice of life drama. While very little happens in Roma, there is an enormous amount actually going on.
It is obvious that the material is very close to Cuaron’s heart as he conveys so much emotion and intensity with every scene. While Cleo is at the centre of the story he also explores the family breakdown from the perspective of the four children and you can imagine that he is expressing his own perspective of his family situation at various ages. The child actors are extremely talented, in particular Marco Graf as youngest, Pepe. I loved his weird little explanations of things that he imagined had happened in his past and future lives.
There is a powerful exploration of the relationship between families and servants. While in many ways Cleo is very much part of the family, she is also not part of the family. During the pregnancy her employers take her to see the doctor and to buy furniture for the baby. The children also turn to her for comfort, but they have no problem with her carrying their luggage in advanced stages of pregnancy.
Because Cleo is so quiet and observant, she is often underestimated by those around her but it is she who saves the family from a devastating event and she who soldiers on the in face of terrible adversity. This can be seen in the contrast between how she and Sofia (Marina de Tavira), the family’s mother, cope with their respective abandonments. She is also the only person able to achieve Professor Zovek’s (Latin Lover) martial arts focus challenge.
Aside from all this there is also a look into the unstable political situation in Mexico and the social inequalities between native Mexican people and the middle class, all back-dropped with little nods to Cuaron’s love of cinema.
I could go on for days. Yalitza Aparicio’s performance is subtle, stalwart and extremely powerful. The scene where her child is born had me in tears and I felt like I wanted to watch her whole life unfold in front of me. For a character who speaks so little she conveys so much.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I absolutely loved Roma. I feel like I’d need to watch it several times just to pick up all the nuances and messages Cuaron is trying to get across. A truly worthy Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director winner at this year’s Oscars.