Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.

IN REVIEW: Roma

 

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

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Through the lens of his own memories as a child, Alfonso Cuarón has created a film that achieves with great power the blending of domestic intimacy and epic grandeur, sorrow and joy, conflict and union. The film aches with nostalgia, landing in the middle of where real life meets art: a rare feat that gives its audience an emotional relatability whilst also telling us a story we never knew. 

Set in Colonia Roma in Mexico City - to the backdrop of the Mexican Dirty War - the film follows Cleo, a maid in the house of Sofía (Maria de Tavira), her husband (the doctor Antonio, played by Fernando Grediaga) and their four young children. Antonio’s departure to Quebec for work is more damaging than anticipated and the rest of the family are left to cope without him, all under the peripheral gaze of Cleo. She has a strong bond with the children which is more backfooted than their mothers but feels central to their growth and support. 

On the discovery that she is pregnant, Cleo tells her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a young man who has come from very little and is now channeling his resentment into learning martial arts. He deserts her in a movie theatre, leaving her with the prospect of raising the child alone. Each suffering their own abandonment, Sofia and Cleo navigate their relationship and the care of the children. Their differences are clear: as Cleo later attempts to reach out to Fermín - who is training with the revolting left wing ‘Los Halcones’ - he calls her a ‘fucking servant’. Meanwhile, Sofía deals with her pain by drunkenly smashing up the family car, quickly buying a replacement in an attempt to keep her children from the reality of their increasingly strained financial situation. 

The film is beautiful in black and white. Cuarón’s shots tend to be wide and each one is full of detail and scope. One in particular shows the children with their cousins playing outside in the fields amongst the Mexican wildlife. It is epic in its nature yet so believably real, a perfect example of the dichotomy that makes this film masterful. 

The acting is uniformly brilliant, especially from Yalitza Aparitizo as Cleo, who makes her debut here after training as a teacher. As Sofía, Maria de Tarva darts between tender and cold, as her suppressed emotions manifest in outbursts towards her loved ones. Drunkenly she takes Celos face and says between laughs: ‘No matter what they tell you, as women, we are always alone.’

The fallout of a particularly traumatic event leaves you feeling moved in a way you wouldn’t expect. A reminder of the potential that cinema has to tell a story that resonates with the universality of human experience and emotion, Roma is easily one of the best films of the year that holds huge power in both style and substance. SC