Cuarón’s Problem with Portraying the Working & Middle Class in “Roma”

This piece is not spoiler free.

Going into Roma, the new film by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, my expectations were quite high. It wasn’t only because he happened to be my favorite director growing up (and is still my favorite out of the three amigos), but finding out this was his comeback to México made me ecstatic. Call it Mexican pride, but I’ve always preferred the works he made here over his mainstream American ones. I’m afraid my anticipation might have clouded my judgement when I first watched the film, as coming out of the theater, my first instinct was to praise it for its technical achievements. But, there was this uneasiness that I just couldn’t shake, which only grew stronger as the days passed.

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NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year

If you notice one thing about Roma, it will likely be its size. It’s a big, big, big movie, with landscapes that extend out into infinity, scenes that seem to last forever, and emotions so wide and deep they could swallow you whole like a well. It makes sweeping political commentary, shows births and deaths and poverty and heartbreak, focuses on the vastness of the ocean and the sky. Its camera likes to slowly sweep left and right, constantly looking outward and upward.

Through all this big-screen grandeur, it would be so easy for Roma to drown itself in itself—and in less skilled hands, it may have done just that. But with Alfonso Cuarón at the helm, creating the most personal work of his entire career, Roma is as sharply focused and intimate as it is grand, and it never for an instant loses sight of the woman at its center.

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Yalitza Aparicio in ‘Roma’ © Netflix

That woman is Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young, indigenous Mexican maid to an upper-middle-class family living in Mexico City in 1970, a time of state-sponsored violence against political dissidents. Cleo is thoughtful and deliberate, always tending to the needs of her employers, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and their four children. But she is also keenly aware of her own needs and limitations, even as the line between work and life becomes more and more blurred.

Language creates an almost helpful boundary—Cleo speaks Spanish in Sofia’s home, but slips back into her native Mixtec with her friends and fellow maid Adela (Nancy García) in their little apartment above the garage. She and Adela find joy in each other’s company and do all the sorts of things young women do together—race through the city streets to get lunch, go to movies with their boyfriends, and exercise and gossip by candlelight every night so as not to waste electricity and disturb Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Verónica García). Even when surrounded by sequences of high drama, these small scenes of tender normalcy are some of the film’s most mesmerizing. Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year”