December 13, 2018

CINEMA | Alfonso Cuarón Remembers 'Roma' on Netflix

"We women are always alone."
Alfonso Cuarón | Roma Netflix

Celebrated filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón beautifully dramatizes the intimate semi-autobiographical stories of his childhood growing up in the titular Mexico City neighbourhood in 1971 through the lens of his family's live-in caretaker who helped raise him. Through observations of daily life and struggles, Roma paints a sumptuously vivid portrait of true-life experiences.

Starring first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, based on Cuarón's actual nanny of indigenous Mixtec descent, she layers the Spanish-language film with such humanity through her naturalistic performance. Anyone familiar with foreign cultures where home servants are normal for middle-class family households knows how these somewhat anonymous but loving women who quietly care for strangers hold a peculiar place in greater society.

How the intimate struggle of Cleo and the family she cares for is expressed through such an immersive environment on screen with such detail and exquisite production design bursting in every frame heightens the subdued but very real drama of the film's year-in-the-life events. How it captures the universal experiences of the lives of others and shows everyday love is so thoroughly expressive.

Roma is ultimately a fairly basic story of two women. In parallel alongside Cleo, her boss Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and the mother of the kids she cares for is trying to keep her family together when her doctor husband suddenly leaves the home entirely after never returning from a business trip. This dual dynamic shows the role of women with such specificity and thoughtful detail.

Alfonso Cuarón | Roma Netflix

Shot in pristine black-and-white 65mm vivid imagery by Cuarón himself, the obvious class distinctions and Cleo's status as a beloved outsider frame the themes of motherhood rather bluntly yet still lovingly. The matter-of-fact long takes and locked-off camera placements let the viewer observe and peek into the world much like Cleo does.

His first Mexican project since the wondrous Y Tu Mamá También, Cuarón's latest film is a technical marvel for such an earnest drama. He uses the largest scale of cinematic canvases to tell a small-scale story of deep emotions and personal middle-class living. In particular, the heightened and crisp sound design is so fully immersive in how it adds to the purposeful filmmaking.

Roma is such an emotional cinematic ride of memories and moments told with a total and complete mastery of the medium's artistry. Cuarón's moving remembrance of his growing up is of such depth and specific sensitivity. Its gaze is a visually rich and marvellous feat of choreographed filmmaking met with heartfelt dramatic performances.

Roma screens as part of the Vancouver International Film Centre's year-round programming at Vancity Theatre and is available for streaming on Netflix.

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