Alfonso Cuarón, the director of Gravity and Children of Men, has returned for his first Netflix film.
The last three films by Alfonso Cuarón leaned more into genre style filmmaking. 2004 saw him tackle the third installment of the Harry Potter Franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In 2006 he brought us Children of Men, a film set in a sort of dystopian future where humanity has stopped being able to reproduce. Then in 2013 he gave us Gravity, which landed him his first two Oscars for Editing and Directing. His work has been considered some of the best filmmaking of our time, and many have called his film before Azkaban, Y Tu Mamá También, one of the greatest films of the 2010’s. His newest film, Roma, feels as if he’s taken every great element from his previous films and applied it to one deeply personal tale, the result of which is an incredibly beautiful piece of filmmaking.
Roma centers on a Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young woman who is a live-in maid for a middle class family in Mexico City during 1970. The film covers a year in Cleo’s life as she takes care of the house and the family’s children and as she ends up becoming pregnant herself. The first half of the film is a slow burn that works in the film’s favor thanks to some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in years. Cuarón slowly brings us into Cleo’s world, moving the camera in gentle pans from one side of the house to the other. When the camera isn’t gliding through her world, it’s perfectly still, set up far from Cleo so that she can live freely in this world. We are guests here, and while never acknowledged, we’re welcome to see it all and take in every detail that surrounds this woman.
As the film picks up, we know who Cleo is. We’ve seen all the details of the life she lives. We’re living with her in every way, and as her life becomes more complicated due to the pregnancy, we feel for her more and more. If the film hadn’t given us such an intimate view of her life in the first half, the second half of the film wouldn’t pay off in the ways that it does. It will tear you apart at the end. The experiences she deals with by the end of this film are things that no one should have to experience. But it’s all real, and it’s all honest. That’s one of the elements that make this film so unique and so beautiful. It’s not just that it looks gorgeous; it looks and feels real on every level.
Cuarón does everything he can to make this film feel as genuine as possible, but it’s never forced. The film feels as though it takes place in Mexico City in 1970, that it was really filmed during that time and place, when in all reality, it was filmed on sound stages and in locations decorated to feel like that time. It’s hard to describe how much this film works and how beautiful it looks because it’s practically indescribable. There’s literally no way to fully detail the beauty in the frames of this film. It’s something that sticks with you, as does the story that unfolds within the frames. Cuarón has shown plenty of times before that he can handle incredibly human stories in a world that is full of fantastic elements. But this time he proves that even in the smallest of settings, he can still give a compelling story that will leave you speechless by the time the credits roll.
Roma is currently streaming on Netflix.