Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón won Oscars for his editing and directing of the 3D space thriller “Gravity” and in 2018, he presents “Roma,” a Spanish-language film as he has created in the past. Born in 1961 in Mexico City, Cuarón’s screenplay for “Roma” is a drama inspired by his experiences growing up as a child and the film is set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district. Rather than focusing the story on what he experienced, his narrative’s protagonist is Cleo, one of two of the family’s live-in hired help who we see do everything for the family of seven: mother, father, grandmother and four children. From cooking, cleaning, bathing and putting to bed four children, as well as cleaning up the family dog’s poop, Cleo’s life is in service of this family almost 24/7 with the exception of an evening or afternoon off. Rarely, if ever, do I recall viewing a story in Spanish cinema or television (over a few decades) with such a focus on “the help” and what they experienced, almost to the degree of servitude. Cuarón has brilliantly written the script about the woman who helped raise him, aside from his mother and grandmother, and places a spotlight on the quiet roles of caregivers that many may have taken for granted in the past (and not only in Mexico) where wealthy families continue to hire individuals like Cleo.
“Roma” is cast with newcomer actors. Yalitza Aparicio stars as Cleo and Nancy Garcia stars as Adela, the family’s other maid. Both are compelling with their realistic performances. Verónica García stars as Sofia’s mother, Teresa, and she portrays this Mexican grandmother to a tee. It is almost incredible that she has no other credits on her filmography, as her performance appears effortless.
Cuarón has shot the film in black and white, truly resulting in magnificent visuals that will take the viewer back in time, leading to a satisfying cinematic experience. The film’s cinematography of the various scenes in and around Mexico City beautifully captures the memory many of us have of the city and the country when we visited it. Production designer Eugenio Caballero (“A Monster Calls”) and costume designer Anna Terrazas (“The Deuce”) deserve to be recognized for their work in making the film feel as authentic as it appears, including the magazine stands, street telephones, the cinema and vendors, to name a few.
Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is the live-in housekeeper and maid of a middle-class family, including Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor and his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira, “Ingobernable” Netflix TV series, “Falco” and “How to Break Up with Your Douchebag”) and their four children. Cleo appears to be on –call most of the time and when she has limited time off, she goes out with Adela (Nancy Garcia), the family’s other maid. At one point she is introduced to Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) by acquaintances and dates this martial arts-obsessed man who appears to want to have a life with her.
Sofia and Antonio’s marriage is starting to fall apart and yet Cleo moves around quietly for the children, making it seem as if all is fine despite Antonio leaving on a “business trip.” Cleo soon has issues with her relationship with Fermin. At this time, Mexico City itself is not stable and becomes dangerous because of tensions between the wealthy and their workers, as well as the Corpus Christi Massacre where an elite group of Mexican soldiers shoot down student demonstrators.
Aside from writing the script for “Roma,” the storyteller serves as director, cinematographer, and co-editor with Adam Gouch. Cuarón’s movie has won major awards at the Venice and Toronto film festivals (among others) earlier this year. It has been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, Alfonso Cuarón; Best Director – Motion Picture, Alfonso Cuarón; and Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language.
Cuarón is a world-class filmmaker and tears will flow from viewing this special and worthy production.
It is now in limited theatrical release (since November) and is in Austin theaters as of December 6th for people to enjoy on the big screen as it deserves. It will be available on Netflix to a wider audience on Friday, December 14.
The film is 135 minutes long and rated R for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.