Review: ‘Roma’ is a Tranquil Triumph

Erin Graham ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor
Pretentious movie-goers tend to divide Hollywood media into “films” and “movies” to indicate a difference in the quality of the content, the former being the higher accolade. While Roma was shot on a 65 mm camera, its black and white quality, rich textures, and quiet victories make it more than deserving of being called a film, and a triumphant one at that.
Roma details the life of a poor Mexican domestic worker, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and the family she works for in the early 1970s. It depicts Cleo’s friendship with the other worker, Adela (Nancy Garía García), her relationship with her employers, and her tense experience with a young man, Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). Cleo and the mother of the family employing her, Sofía (Marina de Tavira), grow closer as a result of the personal tragedies that befall them.

Yalitza Aparicio, Marco Graf, and Daniela Demesa in Roma. Photo Credit: Netflix.
The film feels neorealist with the unobtrusive camerawork, making the viewer feel like an intimate member of the scene rather than a spectator. It also blurs fiction and reality in including a scene on the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971, in which Fermin takes part. The black and white style further adds to a sense that this is a past that happened.
Despite the lack of color, the depth of each frame is stunning, and the textures of each scene are palpable details of the quiet yet remarkable life of Cleo. Despite being a more modest story set to air on Netflix in December, the movie demands a presence in a theater; the sound design is at times guttural, and other times a soothing backdrop for the monotony of life, but it never fails to be rich.
There is little plot throughout the film, but the story meanders in a way reflective of life. Roma at times feels like the Mexican film equivalent of Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha: it’s an intimate look at the lives of two complex women navigating their trauma. At times the momentum of the film is uneven and jarring, but the film ultimately sells it that so is life, and thus still works within this world.
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma. Photo Credit: Netflix.
Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film reads like a first-person point of view novel: there are few minutes where Cleo is not featured in each scene, if not each frame – it is her story, though thematically the movie belongs to the two women and their grief. It’s almost Chekhovian how the women cannot connect through their pain, until the very last few scenes, where it seems that the movie’s true moral is finally realized: we are all capable life – giving it, taking it, saving it, ruining it, or enduring it, but this capability is in all of our hands. The motif of water, flowing as surely as the life within the movie, reminds the audience of the adversity of life, but also the gentle nature of it. The film ends the way it begins, literally reflecting inward on itself, as the words shantih, shantih, shantih float on the screen, which are words of peace and tranquility in Sanskrit.
It would be no surprise to see Cuarón’s third Oscar for Roma at peace on his shelf come the 2019 Academy Awards.
Overall Grade: A-
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