Rarely does a film so immersed in the true human nature of its characters come along. As I watched “Roma” for the first time, I found myself in awe of every second of the film, feeling almost as if I were a part of it and had known its characters all my life.
This feeling persisted as I watched the film the second time. And the third time. I had not even seen the lives of its characters unfold for an hour when I came to the realization that what I was watching was a unique composition that presented the nature of each character to the viewer in extreme detail.
“Roma” follows the lives of a wealthy family in Mexico City, particularly focusing on one of the family’s domestic employees, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Cleo spends her time serving her employers around the clock, but despite her employment, she appears almost as much a part of the family as its four children, parents and grandmother.
While the film focuses on the day-to-day personal and home lives of Cleo and her employing family, it is nothing but immersive. With meticulous brushstrokes, director Alfonso Cuaron (also the film’s screenwriter and cinematographer) paints the portrait of a series of interdependent people intricately woven together through family, trust and love.
This series of connections is deeply compassionate and absorbing to experience, transportational and evocative in its methodology. In displaying genuine emotion, Cuaron takes what might easily be regarded as largely banal lives and ambitiously strips them back to the core of their humanity, a humanity that is honest, sensitive and compelling.
If you’re unfamiliar with his other work (“Children of Men” and “Gravity”), you’ll know very well that Cuaron has a particular fondness for long takes. In his earlier filmography, these long takes either generated wonderment or performed a deeply immersive duty for their films, rarely doing both to an extraordinary effect.
In “Roma,” every shot feels as if it does both, inspiring awe and placing viewers vicariously within the film in every moment.
While plenty of films display an ability to function vicariously for viewers, ‘Roma’ does so exceedingly brilliantly. Its story requires viewers to be present and it places them there sublimely and magnificently. This prowess is almost documentarian in is chronicling of a family’s life revealing the true power of memory beneath the film’s ethereal surface.
Placing viewers within a film’s world does half the work of understanding the humanity that lies beneath the composed facades of its characters. The rest of the work is left up to the world itself. In “Roma” the setting never really feels like a setting, behind its striking surface is just what that world needs to feel human: naturalistic stories, lives and characters.
Instead of answering the questions the film leaves viewers asking, Cuaron’s leaves viewers to decide for themselves, presenting a world far from cut and dry, one that must be interpreted in real time in pursuit of pure fulfillment. I walked away feeling as I never have after a film, in total peace. Perhaps that’s why the words “Shantih Shantih Shantih” appear on screen following the film’s credits, to guide Cuaron’s mantric passion project to a gentle and peaceful close.
I’ll be honest, nothing I read about Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” before its release seemed particularly engaging to me; in other words, I was quite skeptical. How was a story about a family in Mexico City in the early 1970s supposed to be of great interest to me and of such high standing among critics?
What ultimately drove me to see this film was the faith that my doubts would be proven wrong and vacated almost immediately.
“Roma” exceeded any and all expectations I had set prior to seeing it, leaving me baffled that I had ever thought so naively and uncertainly about this masterpiece. If you’re skeptical, don’t be. I wholly resent my initially skeptical sentiment toward the film. I now think “Roma” might just be the best film of 2018.