Set in 1970, in Mexico City, this is said to be Alfonso Cuaron’s most personal film to date.  The care he’s lavished on this film becomes obvious in the opening credits when you see he’s taken ownership of every key aspect: direction, production, story & script, cinematography and editing.

‘Roma’ is very reminiscent of the British and French New Wave styles of the 1950s and 1960s that promoted a more realistic, pseudo-documentary style of film-making.  The documentary style of this movie is developed through beautiful black and white, naturalistic dialogue, the long-tracking shots and economical use of editing.  Rather than using the bombastic techniques of cinema to show the drama, this all falls to the actors and the story itself.

Using unknown actors is another way of keeping the focus on the seemingly small story and not blowing it big by using famous people.   In her debut role, Yalitza Aparicio is Cleo, maid to a middle-class family and she carries this movie, appearing in virtually every frame.  It’s a powerful performance but a lesson in quiet dignity and unassuming bravery as she bears the pain and disappointments that come her way.  Her priority is the family she works for and in return, they give her an immense amount of love back.

As Cleo’s boss, Sofia, is Marina de Tavira who gives the impression of someone living on the edge of her nerves.  Mirroring Cleo’s tribulations, her life as she knows it is beginning to unravel.  Although the problems are of an equal ordeal to both women, they differ in relation to the social constructs they find themselves in.  The defining common ground they both have is verbalised one night when Sofia returns home and drunkenly says ‘Women, we are alone. No matter what they tell you, we are always alone’, their fortunes are up to this point determined by the men in their lives but are theirs to deal with, on their own.

Having no original score, music of the time and place is played on the radio, at the cinema, at a party, in the street.  The expert use sound in this movie rivals the exceptional cinematography; the bedlam of a hospital, the chaos of a student riot, the sound of a marching band practising in the street, the crashing of waves at the beach, the everyday sounds of the street from people talking, planes flying overhead, dogs barking.  It’s all very beautiful and naturalistic.

This is a classic slow-burner of a movie that through it’s slow and quiet pace draws you in bit-by-bit as you literally follow Cleo through an ultimately dramatic and life-changing year.

StoryScreenplay by Alfonso Cuaron
CastYalitza Aparicio, as Cleo Gutierrez
Marina de Tavira, as Sofia
DirectorAlfonso Cuaron
Running Time135 mins

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