Alfonso Cuarón is almost peerless in his visual craftsmanship. The accuracy of that observation is only enhanced by his prolonged absences from the screen. (He has delivered only two films in the past ten years.) Watching a Cuarón film invited enraptured luxuriated in the sheer precision of what’s within the frame, especially as he favors long tracking shots presented as single takes. Unlike many other edit-averse directors, Cuarón rarely indulges in the merely ostentatious. He clearly prefers such moments to have a true storytelling purpose. It is that instinct that which reinforces the most valuable quality Cuarón brings to all his work: authenticity.
Cuarón has cited the autobiographical origins of his latest film, Roma. Even without those assurances, the film is unmistakably built upon the sturdy framework of truth. Set in the early nineteen-seventies, in Mexico City, Roma is primarily concerned with the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a member of the live-in staff to a doctor’s family. She is maid, nanny, cook, laundress, practically anything that is needed in the moment. Without bombast or melodrama, Cuarón examines what this mean, what this life is like, deftly explicating broader social issues in the process. History plays out in the background, but it doesn’t intrude in the manner of contrived fiction. It is part of the whole, built into the memory.
When Cleo’s tale tips towards the stuff of melodrama, Cuarón maintains his restraint. He is interested in simplicity and in finding the profound in the mundane, surely certain that such an approach will only heighten the more wrenching moments when they arrive. There is no manipulation in place. I don’t even think it’s quite accurate to assert that Cuarón is trying to earn strong emotional responses. Roma exhibits yet greater confidence than that. He trains his camera on his own heart, believing each viewer will quickly feel their pulse align in symmetry.
Cuarón has made a film that is bracingly personal and wryly wise. It is charmed and quiet and heartbreaking and funny. Its look is deeply dazzling and its soul is resonant. In every way, Roma is lovely.