‘Roma’ Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Extraordinary Portrait Of Life In Mexico City

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is a maid working for a wealthy family in 1970s Mexico City. The family is undergoing a messy separation when Cleo discovers she is pregnant. Together they must learn to weather the turbulent times for their family and their country.
This might be Cuaron’s most down to earth film for a while but he still fills it with visual spectacle. In addition to intimately shot and immaculately observed moments of domestic life, we are shown a man being shot out of a Canon, an army of martial artists practicing kata, dramatic scenes of political unrest and a hectic birth scene in an overtaxed family.
The standout moment is another classic Cuaron single take shot of Cleo entering a turbulent ocean. It’s a hugely emotional moment and a breathtaking spectacle. Cuaron finds the romance and extraordinary in a very conventional life.
The dynamic within the family is beautifully structured. The family is an off-kilter machine that struggles to keep everyone safe and happy. The father’s absence is felt throughout in small ways. Cleo meanwhile, regardless of her bravery and kindness, is a servant of the family. With the exception, if two blissful moments where the barriers come crashing down, the separation is always there, particularly between herself and the lady of the house.
Mexico City itself is a huge presence in the film. The small house is lovingly shot, even if it does have dog excrement all over the driveway. We follow characters to the cinema, to fairs, to bars, and out to the country estates. It’s a loving depiction of a vibrant but troubled city.  Cuaron’s camera often picks out planes flying overhead. The rest of the world moving far away from these people and their concerns.
Roma is the most personal and intimate film Cuaron has made in years and it’s just as exhilarating stylish as his blockbusters. His portrait of a loving family in turmoil is one of his very best works.
Five Stars
Roma will have its UK premiere at The London Film Festival. See details here: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/

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