Film review: ‘ROMA’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed”

Mexican director and cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron is renowned for his startling looking films such as Children of Men and Gravity not forgetting his superb contribution to the Harry Potter franchise, The Prisoner of Azkaban. In his latest film, the remarkable and apparently semi-autobiographical, Roma he turns his astonishing aesthetic talents to both his home country of Mexico and what appears to be a celebration of the ground-breaking cinema of the late 50’s and early 60’s new wave.

Shot in black and white and with a story focused on characters and their environment rather than linear plot development, this fascinating but admittedly slow-moving story of guilt, redemption, economic disparity and social upheaval in early 70’s Mexico recalls Fellini and Truffaut more than it does previous Cuaron films.

The narrative involves a sliver of a story about housemaid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who works for a middle-class Mexican family. Her drab but ordered life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes pregnant to her intense boyfriend (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) who we know must be bad news as he walks around with nunchakus in his back pocket. Cleo’s life is set against, the febrile atmosphere of Mexico at a time when the Central American Marxist revolutions were inspiring protests and a brutal counter-revolutionary movement. More than anything, this film seems concerned with capturing the precarious situation of a vulnerable person like Cleo caught up in this world.

The film spends a lot of time focusing on Cleo’s everyday routine as a maid and nanny to the family. This emphasis on her mundane life and the slow pace with which Cuaron unfurls her story may seem ponderous to some viewers but it helps immerse us in her life. While giving a deliberately muted performance, Yalitza Aparicio is wonderful making Cleo a stoic, taciturn figure wracked with guilt over a personal tragedy and one with whom audiences can’t help but empathise.

The film is of course amazing to look at. Cuaron treats us to a series of stunning and at times unsettling images such as a street protest turned massacre and a hillside set ablaze during an ill-advised fireworks display that once again reveal his astonishing artistry.  Few directors have such command of physical space within the frame and Cuaron is able to place us in the middle of this turbulent world. He also makes terrific use of locations, from the cluttered streets of Mexico City’s Roma district (from which the film derives its name), to vast open countryside and saddening slum areas.

At times this film does seem like an exercise in art-house stylistics and doesn’t always hit the emotional chords but for the most part it’s a remarkable piece of work.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Alfonso Cuaron.

Release date: 13th Dec 2018.

Running time: 135 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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