A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.A year in the life of a middle-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Alfonso Cuarón and the Meaning of Memory
Simply put, Roma is among the richest examples of what cinema can offer.
Over the brief 134-minute runtime, we grow into a family in a patient and natural way as we live and breathe their day-to-day lives in 1970s Mexico City. The film is essentially a sequence of episodes, big or small in its impact on a family, affecting characters in different ways, and told primarily through the perspective of the housemaid, Cleo (Yalitzo Aparicio). We experience hardships, love, anger, tragedy, bliss, and even the smallest of human emotions, such as childhood naïveté. And like children, we once again embrace the details of life, from collecting hail from the ground by hand as it falls from the sky to sharing a hug as last night's rain can be heard still trickling down the gutters.
Written, directed, produced, filmed, and edited by Alfonso Cuarón, this is as much a personal work as it is a testament to an artist's vision and talent. It is a historically-grounded film that comes alive with Tati-esque significance reaching every corner of the frame, with camerawork so intentional that it fills our hearts with a mother's pain, an Ozu-like story that ranges from lighthearted to cathartic, and a brilliant pattern of recurring, cyclic, familiarizing setting elements that appreciates and brings into light the reality of everyday life.
Perhaps one of Roma's strongest thematic undercurrents is the perseverance of women within the societal stronghold of men. With its unapologetic display of evil deeds at the expense of women going criminally unnoticed every day, Roma is, in a way, a love letter to say that Cuarón did not forget the multifaceted strength of the women in his life (it is dedicated to his nanny and, like Fellini's Roma, was inspired by his own childhood).
The film's end felt like awaking from a dream. As the lights turned on, I looked around the theater, as if we have all just transported back to our own lives. Cuarón has accomplished something extraordinary here. While much of Roma comes from the memories of childhood, it is also a film that will bring each one of us back to what movies are about. And that is the greatest mark of an exceptional film.
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