To say Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical film Roma hit me hard would be an understatement. Despite not growing up in Mexico City in the early 1970’s, there is something undeniably relatable and universal about the film’s themes regarding colonialism, classism and the resilience of women.
The latter of which is exemplified by Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid who works for a middle-class family. Tending to the household chores, including taking care of the children of a frustrated Sofia (Marina de Tavira), the matriarch of the home, Cleo finds herself helping the family through tough times when it is discovered that the patriarch is not on a business trip like Sofia claims he is. Complicating matters further is the fact that Cleo’s boyfriend no longer wants anything to do with her once she discovers she is pregnant.
Capturing key moments of the era, including the harrowing Corpus Christi massacre, Cuarón creates an emotionally rich piece of cinema. Filmed in glorious black and white, everything from the community coming together to fight a forest fire to children playing on the beach is rich in beauty and nuance. While a stunning work visually, it is the way Cleo navigates the rapidly changing world around her that provides the film with its heartbeat. Often a silent witness to all the unfolding events, it is Cleo who must be the glue who holds the family together, putting aside her own issues in the process.
Displaying various aspects of the class system, on where appearances are more important than character, and the ways in which men routinely let down women in a palpable way, Cuarón’s Roma is hypnotic in its beauty while simultaneously being emotionally gut-wrenching. A powerful piece of cinema, Roma is one of the year’s best films.