Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Barely five minutes into Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, you get the palpable sense that you’re watching something truly special. Few (if any) films in a given year transcend cinema and become a masterpiece that not only demands to be seen but also earns instant status as a shining example of how powerful and sublime movies can be.
Based on Cuarón’s own upbringing in the titular Mexico City neighborhood, the film is set in the early 1970s and focuses on a well-to-do family and its domestic help, including Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the young girl who serves as nanny, maid, and cook. Told through her eyes in stunning, ultra-crisp black and white, Roma shares her heartbreaking story in such a profoundly moving way that you’ll end the movie feeling as though she is part of your own family.
The opening scene alone—soapy water splashing over flagstones and then settling to show us the reflection of a distant jet flying over—could be analyzed for an entire semester in a university film class, and that’s before we’re even introduced to a single character.
Once the film begins in earnest, we meet Cleo and the family she serves, and, at the risk of spoilers, suffice to say we are then taken on a journey that involves broken relationships, abandonment, pregnancy (and its aftermath), a wildfire, and even the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico City.
Roma is a movie that begs repeat viewings—the first, just to begin taking in the story and the characters, and then subsequent re-watch(es) to process it even more and to also marvel at its standing as a cinematic achievement. From the camera work (which Cuarón did himself) to the sound design to the flawless, incredibly intricate choreography of the film’s many exquisite tracking shots, there’s not a moment in Roma that isn’t an awesome (in the true sense of the word) achievement. And there’s very few individual frames that couldn’t be hung on the wall of a museum as brilliantly composed art.
Cuarón, who also wrote the screenplay and co-edited the film, weaves all of the elements together into a tightly wound, supremely cohesive tapestry of action and emotion that at times feels like a simple day-in-the-life story and at others like an epic motion picture event. Throughout the film’s 135-minute runtime, not a second is wasted—even as we linger on a moment or a person longer than conventional film wisdom dictates. It begs you to take the entire scene in and let the emotions wash over you, figuratively and (in a spectacular scene toward the end) even literally.
The closing credits of Roma end with the mantra “Shantih shantih shantih”, a prayer that beseeches a sense of inner peace, which is exactly what the audience needs after enduring the film’s harrowing journey. And as another airplane flies overhead in the closing seconds, you may find just that peace, recognizing the two-plus hours of pure art you have just experienced.