2018 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: The beauty of life is hard to recreate, even in a film that uses moving pictures. Writer/director Alfonso Cuarón has exercised his gifts in breathtaking outings including “Y Tu Mamá También,” “Children of Men,” and “Gravity.” Never considering that he would raise the bar once again, his newest and most personal venture “Roma” pushes the boundaries of cinema in a way that will move the most ardent guardians. “Roma” takes its time, a builder so to speak. Taking narrative and thematic blocks, stacking them one after another, until what you’re left with is a lustrous portrait of love and understanding. It’s quite possibly, the most touching piece of cinema you’ll experience this year.
“Roma” chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City during the 1970s. It tells the story of Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparicio), a housemaid who learns first hand about love, loss, and sacrifice while she tends to a family, anchored by the hand of Sra. Sofia (played by Marina de Tavira), who is also trying to come to terms with a changing dynamic in her marriage.
A “visionary” is a term, too often used for directors who haven’t earned it. Taking absolute control of his film from producing, writing, directing, editing, and cinematography, Cuarón is dedicated to telling the story in the manner in which it was meant to be told. A fly on the wall, the viewer, is buried within the story, gaining a first-hand perception of these characters and what drives them with every selection they make. The immersion into the lives of these women, who were inspired by Cuarón’s own upbringing, the viewer is catapulted into a world we’ve only just been introduced, yet feels so painstakingly familiar.
Cuarón’s choices behind the camera can’t be replicated nor learned in any film school in the world. He’s brave, audacious, and even intrusive into this world. Though grimly real, you are in full awe and pathos of these characters, learning their joys and heartbreaks, strengths and weaknesses, and dreams and fears, simultaneously, being injected with countless shots of adrenaline and excitement. Painful in the framing of the human condition, you still succeed in finding the irrevocable spirit in it all. Unfathomable skillful execution on all fronts, the beauty of life is discovered, on screen, in just 135 minutes time.
Yalitza Aparicio is the prophecy that the cinematic Gods spoke of, and the one we’ve waited for decades. Her Cleo, subdued in many regards, shows how you plunge into the psyche of a character and wear every part of her inside and out. The single-minded vigor and visceral passageway she lays upon our feet is nothing that we’ve seen before. As critics, we often write sentences, not understanding what we’re genuinely saying and the ramifications of such things that we say. I know I can be guilty of such a thing. I mention this to repeat the previous sentence once again, with more clarity and assurances in which it is meant: The single-minded vigor and visceral passageway that Aparicio lays upon our feet is nothing that we, as observers of film and the human race, have never witnessed before. In her first film role, I’d be tempted to tell her to never act again. It is incomprehensible that she, or any person living or dead, would be able to recreate or top a role with such accuracy or depth ever again. Everything that follows would pale by comparison. And while all this would be tempting, I would never deny the opportunity to see this new, outstanding talent of our generation, not be afforded the chance to try and try again, for the rest of my cinematic life.
Marina de Tavira taps into intensity and makes it look effortless in every frame such inhabits. A vehement force of precocious mastery, de Tavira sobers as a cinematic aid that lives and breathes the testimony of an important figure in the creator’s life. She calculates her efforts, mostly from a distance from the viewer. Most of her shots always seem to be looked upon from a range or span, observed by Cleo, with a razor-sharp mission of mercy and care.
Cuarón’s ambivalence of the human condition, when packed into the hostile and dour situations in which we face, are executed with such a brute force, that the most challenging thing that will occur is deciding to stand up or not when its over. It’s a bold, and harrowing reminder that the towering landmark of a director’s career can come when you least expect it. An extraordinary and unsparing take on life, united through the lens of love and belonging, “Roma” is a simple story, simply told by a man with a singular vision, that is a marvel of aesthetic control we may not see again for years to come. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.
“Roma” will be distributed by Netflix and opens in theaters and streaming on Dec. 14. It is screening at the New York Film Festival.