In what seems to be a pretty simple story to tell, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is anything but.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Roma chronicles a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in maid in 1970s Mexico City. She works for Sra. Sofia and Sr. Antonio (Marina de Tavira and Fernando Grediaga) who have four kids. Cleo seems to like her job and life overall. However, Cuarón does not waste much time in letting us know that things are not all sunshine and roses in this tale. We see early on that Sofia and Antonio’s relationship is strained (and we learn it is much more than that later on). In one scene, for example, the couple has a heated discussion over things, including Cleo’s performance as a maid. Cleo hears the discussion but continues her work.
From there, we see Cleo going out and trying to live her best life. She has a boyfriend in Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) of who’s child she is pregnant with. Unfortunately for Cleo, Fermín disowns her after she tells him the news of her pregnancy and she is not the same at this point. She almost gives up on everything and believes there is little to no meaning for her life. She thinks she is not worthy. However, one act of heroism allows her to realize that she is just the opposite.
This leads me into a part of the film that is truly exceptional: the symbolism. One instance is the use of a marching band that seems to randomly come down the street by the family’s home. But it was not random at all. From afar, the band sounds pretty darn good. As the band creeps closer and closer to the turbulent home of this family, however, it sounds discombobulated. Whether Cuarón meant to do this or my hearing was totally off, this is a perfect way to personify the topsy-turvy lives of our main characters.
Another example takes place in the hospital after Cleo receives her first pregnancy checkup. An earthquake strikes the city out of nowhere and we Cleo just stands in place, eyes fixated on the hospital’s baby room as nurses scramble to save innocent newborns from the quake’s wrath. Her facial expressions show she just doesn’t care. Period. This also serves as a bit of foreshadowing as we later find out that (SPOILER) Cleo would give birth to a stillborn child who does not survive and admits to the family that she did not want to go through with the pregnancy in the first place.
On the technical side of things, Roma utilizes exquisite cinematography. It is shot in black and white in such brilliant detail, particularly a scene where Fermín and Cleo talk in a room they rent for the night. Cuarón is also the cinematographer in this, so the masterful quality is not all that surprising.
Roma is a very good film. I would not say I was overly thrilled with it, as the plot did not take off until about midway through. It is a bit hard to follow as well (I tried my best to explain what it is all about, here) and it demands your undivided attention. One distraction and you may miss an important part. I recommend seeing the film but I cannot justify how it received a Best Picture nod.
My Grade: A