Considering how important they are to the format of cinema, it’s a shame that so few directors ever become household names in the cultural spotlight. The era of Spielberg and Scorsese is coming to the end, and the only director that feels like a household name from the current generation is Christopher Nolan. One director that deserves to be in this same echelon is Alfonso Cuaron. With Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men, and Gravity, Cuaron has shown that he can make standout entries in multiple genres. While with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he has shown that he can not only survive the blockbuster system but shine in it. Cuaron’s latest movie is Roma, a slice of life tale about a maid in 1970s Mexico. With Roma, Cuaron creates another intricately detailed world that reveals the best about cinema. It may not be in the top tier of his work but it’s still a really good movie.
Roma begins by introducing us to Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio in an Oscar nominated role), a young woman working as a maid for a family in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Most of the first half of the movie is just showing what Cleo’s daily life is like. It’s very low key, and if you come in expecting something as grandiose as some of Cuaron’s previous movies you may end up a bit disappointed. However, Cuaron still brings his world-class world building skills, and due to the low-key nature of the plot it really sticks out. Almost every bit of the screen is filled with something interesting. The subtle plot also allows a sense of quirkiness to settle into the film in a way that hasn’t happened in any of Cuaron’s previous efforts. A one take involving a character trying to sing a celebratory song during a scene of chaos comes instantly to mind.
As the movie moves into its second half it finally becomes a bit more plot heavy, and the grandiose tracking shots that Cuaron is known for begin to become more prevalent. The movie certainly takes some dark turns but some authentic and powerful turns from Aparicio and Marina de Tavira (playing Cleo’s employer who is also dealing with some personal issues) are enough to make some of these scenes bearable when all hope seems to fade. It all leads to an emotional conclusion that crescendos to what will end up being one of the most iconic images in cinema history.
Roma takes a while to get going and the plot does takes some dark turns. However, Alfonso Cuaron proves yet again that he is a master of his craft. His directing style is innovative and even his screenplay knows how to deliver emotions in a realistic but effective way.