Stitching together memories from his own upbringing to carve a deeply personal & empathetic love letter to the people who raised him, Roma finds Alfonso Cuarón in commanding form as he draws on his childhood to deliver an absorbing portrait of domestic life amidst the political turmoil of 1970s Mexico.
Set in the titular neighbourhood of Mexico City during the 1970s, the story of Roma chronicles a year in the life of a young domestic worker employed in the household of a middle-class family. Through her eyes, the film covers a set of events that end up transforming her own life as well as that of the family she works for.
Written, co-produced, photographed, co-edited & directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men & Gravity), Roma finds him taking inspirations from his early years to provide a semi-autobiographical account which he then translates to film canvas with painstaking care & genuine affection while making sublime use of his trademarks.
It does take a while for the story to get its sure footing though, for the film appears to be headed nowhere during the first half and was simply meandering without any sense of direction. However, once we enter the final hour, everything starts to come together piece by piece, all subplots end up converging towards a single outcome, and a lot of it begins to make sense.
Shot on location, photographed in black n white, and making use of set pieces that evoke the depicted timeline, the film exudes authenticity from beginning to end, for Cuarón leaves no stone unturned to make sure every image has something to add or tell, and is never in a hurry to reach the conclusion as all its events play out at a simmering pace, thus allowing for deeper examination.
Throughout the picture, the camera keeps pans from one end to another as if it’s taking everything in through a series of long takes that not only appear more challenging to pull off with every set piece but also become more immersive in the process as evident in the gut-wrenching hospital sequence, which in itself packs a powerful emotional punch, only to be followed by a stronger segment on a beach.
Coming to the performances, Roma is steered by Yalitza Aparicio, a newcomer with no formal training in acting nor any prior acting experience. And yet, under Cuarón’s supervision, she delivers an emotionally resonant performance that single-handedly elevates this film to a better height. The supporting cast is no slouch and play their given roles responsibly but it is Aparicio who impresses the most.
On an overall scale, Roma is Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal film since Y Tu Mamá También that explores social stratum, domestic strife & political turbulence through the prism of one family but it’s not a film that everyone is going to embrace. Cuarón’s ode to his homeland, the people who played a key role in his upbringing, and the events that shaped his life is a passion project he realises in vivid fashion but considering the near-universal praise showered upon it since its premiere, Roma does fall short of living up to its hype. The technical execution is almost flawless but the story isn’t as riveting as expected. Worth a shot anyway.