December every year in the world of film means it’s the last month for the best movies to make their mark. Since many of America’s film critics and commentators have released their nominees, some of which Netflix has distributed, in this post I’ll be reviewing Roma, a foreign film that has been nominated for best picture at the Critics’ Choice Awards (and presumably will be nominated for an Academy Award as well).
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity), Roma tells the story of a Mexican housekeeper living with a middle class family in Mexico City. Set in the early 1970s and in a nation of political turmoil, we follow the young housekeeper, Cleo, who comes to terms with what womanhood really is in such a climate, and what it means for her identity.
Being nominated for eight Critics’ Choice Awards (with the most for a film this year having 14), I went into Roma assuming it would at least be a decent movie. When the end credits rolled, I thought it was the best movie of the year, at least so far that I’ve seen. Now yes, I do hope to still see some left that have many nominees of which I have yet to see. But Roma was a display of visual arts that told a story in which only the most astounding films do, in my opinion.
Roma is a film that “let’s you sit in it,” or sink into the story. There’s very little music (coming from one who loves a moving musical score), and it’s shot in black and white. These traits I think yield something special when the viewer is allowed to “take in” a story and is not force-fed or rushed through a cornucopia of sights and sounds slamming you in the face, not to mention lacking any structure. “Great, thanks for your $12, the exit is that way.”
No, when there is music, it’s intentional and placed for the viewer to understand something special, something symbolic that is going on. Visually, Cuarón directs with such beautiful usage of imagery and symbolism. Having only finished the film a couple of hours ago (at the time of writing), I still don’t think I’ve exhausted all the meanings and connections within this one story. Round two viewing may be in the works!
The cinematography greatly executes beautifully framed shots one after another. Additionally, there are also techniques such as slow panning from left to right and vice versa that gives you a panoramic display of activities, activities that revolve around a nuclear family and its loyal housekeeper.
Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, for me was entirely believable. Because of her role as housekeeper for this particular family, there isn’t necessarily a wide range of emotion. Yet as the story progresses and the stakes are raised, so does the suspense and stress level. As events unfold, I felt emotionally connected with a Mexican woman working as a young housekeeper in Mexico City during the 1970s. Such a story had a structure that was clear and was easy to follow. Characters develop. Scenes were intentional. And for me, the pacing was neither too slow nor too fast.
Finally, Roma worked for me because of both its strong cultural significance and cultural relevance. Though the film is actually a semi-biographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, the release of the film comes at a time where there is much discord on issues related to social status and gender equality. Regardless of where you stand on such issues, Roma is impactful for the discussions it may foster now and perhaps for decades to come.
Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 9/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 9.1/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 96/100