Sometimes, you come across a film that doesn’t have an ounce of falseness. Happily for Roma, everyone seems to be coming across it at the same time. It’s poised to be a frontrunner for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, and rightfully so. Easily the most intimate and personal film of Alfonso Cuarón’s (Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) career, its story is so preciously and tenderly told that you can’t help but relate to it and be extremely moved.
Set in the turbulent Mexico City of the early 1970s, Roma finds young Cleo — a stand-in for Cuarón’s real-life nanny — assisting a middle-class family as both she and they go through personal issues just as tough as the societal upheaval going on all around them. Yalitza Aparicio nails the role, layering Cleo with a politeness that belies a deep fire of emotion underneath.
From the first moment we meet her, we care deeply about her and her employers because we see the tenderness between them. When she’s got a secret to tell them that could affect her future, we feel for her without being sure of the outcome because we’ve seen a portrait of how pleasant things are and we don’t yet know how they might respond to potential conflict.
As the film goes on, however, we really come to love this family. Cuarón strikes the perfect balance of low and high stakes. We know exactly what matters most to these characters, and why their changing world should affect us so deeply.
Cuarón is his own cinematographer here, and every extended sequence in this beautiful black and white is absolutely breathtaking. It’s pure visual poetry, and the last few long takes are among some of the greatest art ever put to film.
One last thing I’ll say: it’s very hard to get me to cry in films, even films I love. The beach scene (and you’ll know what I’m talking about once you see it) had me bawling. Get the tissues ready.