There aren’t many modern movies released into the mainstream, that deal with intimate memory in the way that Roma does. Now, I’m not meaning that this is some kind of collective/universal nostalgic trip for a period most of us never felt, but the film, through the observations and direct experiences of lead character Cleo – a live-in housekeeper for a well-off Mexican family – quietly pulls us all into the moods and attitudes of the culture, the era, and the people showcased. Basically, it’s cinema at its highest point. To travel back and empathize with others, fictional or otherwise, is a key part of what drives us to the movies in the first place.
In this slice of life, roughly one year-round story, housekeeper Cleo does her work for a Mexico City family with equal parts stoicism and care, being a close confidant to the children and parents, but within a certain limit – her role of helper is never forgotten, even if she rises past that in their minds and hearts. There’s an aloofness to how the story is told and how it progresses, meaning that while it all seems very personal and close, it’s also open and airy, willing to go off in different directions and focus should the need come. Cleo is the constant here, bolting the movie down to a consistently covered character and terrain, but often the camera will wander a bit, training itself on a tangent for some time, before arriving back to our main tale. It’s almost how memories and interpretations over time of said memories work, in that they flow in all ways, shapes, and patterns. Like clouds. Very much like clouds. But never is it cloudy.
I can imagine Roma being shown in large format IMAX presentations just as equally as I can imagine some crowds being bored. For certain, the pace and motion of the film move along at a good and low speed, but people will probably confuse that with how the camera lingers on characters and environment. This is no silent film, but the soundtrack is more ambient than musical. More atmospheric and place setting than anything else. Along with its black & white palette, I can for sure imagine many a sleepy eye in the audience. But anyone finding themselves drifting off will miss a movie of bright lights and clarity, of overwhelming shots and sequences that coincide with the intimacy of everything, of great vision and great respect.
Alfonso Cuaron – writer, director, and cinematographer – took much of the movie from his own accounts of growing up, but given that this is mostly from Cleo’s point of view, it’s interesting to see how he took her eyes and senses and expanded upon them into grand experimentation of sorts in storytelling. His previous film Gravity was a production challenge in terms of the mechanics of the filmmaking itself, while Roma represents a challenge in perspective, from our understanding of it to our comfort in viewing and feeling it. Juxtaposed with the rather slow-moving, street-level story, Cuaron brings new definition to what is considered a “spectacle”. Indeed, Roma is spectacular.
What can be said about a film that deals heavily in our own and others memory, when cinema itself is a play on our own and others experiences and memories? That Roma gets at the very heart of its medium to express and punctuate (and perhaps exorcize) the thoughts and events of its maker is a testament to all that is cinematic. Very much, if you look up the word cinema in the dictionary, you’ll find the poster for Roma next to it.
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe that’s hyperbole. Maybe.
In Roma, there are scenes that visit a local movie palace. Once on a date night, once on a family night out. Framed at an angle to emphasize the sheer size and power of the screen and what’s being projected onto it, I couldn’t help but reflect on the idea of being reflected upon by a movie in love with movies as much as I am. Cuaron remembers going to the movies as a youth and gets the scale of what we were once exposed to. More than entertainment, but memory. Not just memory, but empathy. That’s cinema, folks.
RATING: 5 / 5
Roma is screening at The Broad and is viewable on Netflix.