So distinguished director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men) made a new movie, and let me just say that it is a piece of art. And of course, like all great pieces of art, it takes a certain level of patience, retrospection, and creativity to understand it.
I’ll say this too — this movie is not for everyone. The film, which follows an upper class Mexican family during the 1970s, moves at a leisurely, melodic pace. It’s in black and white and entirely in Spanish and hardly anything “happens”. Actually, quite a lot happens, but the plot is made up of mostly domestic issues regarding the maid of the household. It is a bittersweet story, leaning on the bitter side, about love and loss and pain and how all of those things wrap into one.
But when you watch this movie, it’s honestly difficult to focus on the plot. Not because it’s not interesting or important, but because you’re too busy being stunned by the cinematography and direction. Cuaron is known for his beautifully crafted shots and unexpected sequences. In Roma, his handiwork can be seen in every single shot. It’s almost exhausting to watch once you begin to realize how ultra calculated the whole thing is — and it doesn’t take long to realize this. Cuaron stays with a single shot for much longer than you would expect, which contributes to the slowness of the film, but specifically reminds viewers that This Is Real Life. And real life it was — the film is semi-autobiographical, based on Cuaron’s childhood. Cuaron doesn’t shy away from any image, even if it’s unexciting, disturbing, or uncomfortable (including a male full frontal nudity scene that goes on for nearly two minutes). Cuaron’s idea here is to show life as it is, with all its beauty and ugliness.
Another interesting thing — most of the actors in the film are not actually actors. The lead, Cleo, is played by Yalitza Aparicio, who was previously school teacher. She now has a Critic’s Choice Award nomination. This is a similar story for many of the other actors, and Cuaron actually gave them their lines on the morning of the shoot, making the whole thing feel very unlike a movie, even though the direction is so diligent.
The whole movie really is a visual masterpiece. There’s no doubt about it. Cuaron will certainly be in the running for Best Director, and there’s a very good chance he’ll take home the gold for this piece. It’s clear why Cuaron wanted this film shown in theaters rather than just debuted on Netflix — it’s the kind of old age cinema that demands to be viewed on a huge screen with no distractions. Like a piece of art in the Louve, it requires a certain mindset and attention.