The reasons that “Roma” has become one of the most heralded films of the past year are black and white – and that’s not just a reference to the its strikingly evocative throwback cinematography.
“Roma” features some of the most beautiful, bizarre, heartbreaking and terrifying moments in recent cinematic memory, and every indelible scene manages to sneak up and later haunt you because of the deceptively, elegantly simple storytelling.
Directed, written, produced, shot and edited by two-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”), the semi-autobiographical film is set in 1970s Mexico, where Cleo (luminous teacher-turned-actress Yalitza Aparicio) works as one of two live-in domestics for a middle-class family in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood.
Cuaron opens his poetic, personal film by following Cleo sunup to sundown through her never-ending chores — doing laundry, caring for four children, cooking meals, cleaning house and mopping up the attractively tiled driveway that doubles as an unfortunate toilet for the family dog – deliberately establishing a contemplative pace that is both exquisitely lifelike and quietly cinematic.
Of course, life has a tendency to go awry: Her employer, Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is left frantic and floundering when her absentee husband, Senor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), extends his latest affair indefinitely, while Cleo’s boyfriend (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) literally walks out on her when she reveals that their liaisons have resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. The parallel dramas play out against political unrest culminating in the 1971 Corpus Christi massacre during which more than 100 student demonstrators were killed in Mexico City.
An Oscar front-runner that has received myriad accolades, the Netflix release is getting a limited theatrical run. Given Cuaron’s stunning wide-screen black-and-white cinematography and the film’s meticulous Dolby Atmos sound design, “Roma” is definitely worth a trip to the theater, but mostly, it just quietly demands to be seen.