MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 25, 2019: ROMA

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motw logo 1-35Winner of the AWFJ’s 2018 EDA awards for Best Film and Best Non-English Language Film (as well as Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing), Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is a lushly filmed, beautifully specific slice-of-life drama that presents its central female characters with love and compassion. The story centers on Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), the cook/maid/nanny to an upper middle class family living in Mexico City’s Roma district in the early 1970s.

Inspired by Cuaron’s own childhood caretaker/companion, Cleo is a warm, friendly young woman who works hard from sunup to sundown for Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira), her husband, and their four children. When Cleo accidentally becomes pregnant — at around the same time that Sra. Sofia’s husband leaves the family — the household’s relationships and roles are put to the test, especially after student protests erupt into violence.

Cuaron’s re-creation of his personal past, frequently captured via his trademark use of long, unbroken shots, is incredibly detailed and authentic, with every carefully placed prop contributing to the film’s sense of place and time. Equally authentic are the emotions conveyed through the film’s impressive performances. Aparicio is a natural, and Cuaron makes her relatable and empathetic. De Tavira is also excellent as Sofia, a character who could have easily become brittle and one-note but is instead full of nuance; she’s clearly doing the best that she can, even if that best isn’t always what someone else might do.

“Roma” deals in complicated subject matter — socioeconomic inequality, broken families, loss — but never in a way that dehumanizes its characters or detracts from the power of its central story. Cleo is the movie’s beating heart, and in bringing her to life, Cuaron shines a light on the many, many real-life women she represents. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sheila Roberts: Gorgeously shot in black and white, Alfonso Cuaron’s brave, nuanced and visually stunning Roma is a master work evocative of the early films of Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica. What makes the film so transcendent is the moving way in which Cuaron reveals his story from the nanny’s perspective — taking love and inspiration from one of his own former caretakers — and offers audiences powerful, intimate portrayals of the film’s female characters. This is a highly personal film and deservedly a major contender for some of the year’s biggest awards.

Susan Wloszczyna: Roma is intimate, epic and female-focused, not unlike filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 intergalactic 3-D odyssey Gravity, during which Sandra Bullock’s grieving medical specialist is nearly lost in space on her first shuttle mission. Read full review.

Loren King It’s fitting that the AWFJ has honored Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s visual and aural love letter to the women in his life, with the 2018 EDA Award for Best Film and for Best Non-English Language Film plus EDA Awards for Cuaron for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Editing. Besides its focus on women usually relegated to the background, Roma is a cinematic masterpiece of luminous, deep-focus black-and-white cinematography and immersive, naturalistic sound design. Although Roma is available for streaming on Netflix, the film’s distributor, most cinephiles will concur that if you have not seen Roma in a proper theater, you have not seen Roma. Read full review.

Nell Minow: Roma will be studied for years as a landmark in cinematic storytelling, made even more meaningful because it pays tribute to a character who is usually in the background.

Pam Grady: Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio’s transcendent performance as Cleo, a Mexico City nanny, anchors Alfonso Cuaron’s most resonant work to date. Memory abuts history and the personal brushes against the political in this gorgeously photographed, vividly told story that centers Cleo within her employer’s family (where she is simultaneously a part of and apart from the family) and offers a glimpse of a tumultuous era through her eyes. Read full review.

Kristen Page Kirby Alfonso Cuaron told a story with big themes using small moments, and at the still center of it all lies Yalitza Aparicio’s performance. It’s stunning in its simplicity as she thoroughly inhabits Cleo, conveying the subtle power of her emotions (often wordlessly). It is a marvel to watch her work, simply because she does it so effortlessly.

MaryAnn Johanson This is what we mean when we talk about men being feminist allies (Film Edition): Alfonso Cuaron made a semiautobiographical movie about his childhood in Mexico City that isn’t steeped in nostalgia for his own personal past but is instead a reconsideration — from an adult perspective, and a very feminist one — of one of the women who raised him, the family’s maid and nanny. There’s plenty going on in Roma that is about the tedious endlessness of domestic labor — the dishes and laundry that constantly need doing; the reappearing dog shit always to be cleaned up! — which is in itself a better appreciation of “women’s work” that we often see onscreen. But the keen and sensitive understanding of what the lives of women are like that Cuaron displays here, and deploys with such enormous empathy, is something that, sadly, many men never learn. And while male-dominated cinema has certainly given us plenty of hazy, sentimental reveries of (male) childhood, I can’t recall a single one that comes with what feels like such a bittersweet realization that what was happening around you as a child was so much bigger and more complicated than you could ever have been aware of at the time.

Jennifer Merin Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful Roma is a semi-autobiographical epic that reminds us that cinema is art. Shot in black and white, the film is set in Colonia Roma, an upper middle class neighborhood in Mexico City, and focuses on fictionalized versions of the two women who raised Cuaron and his siblings during the 1970s. It is, in essence, a slice of life tribute to the spirits of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the maid who worked round the clock caring for the kids in addition to doing all of the household’s menial chores, and of Cuaron’s mother (Marina De Tavira, a women who was coping with an inconsiderate husband and their failing marriage. Slow-paced and highly nuanced, the story is almost dreamlike in its telling, replete with haunting images that linger long after the story is told. This is a timeless film that should be seen time and time again.

Elizabeth Whittemore Roma is what happens every once in a blue moon in film. When beautiful cinematography, storytelling, and acting all come together in one place. Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuaron, gives us a rare cinephile’s gift in his most recent creation. The natural rhythm of scenes and elegant camera work (most noteably the intimacy of the close-ups) lets us immerse ourselves into the lives of his characters. Our leading lady Cleo (played flawlessly by Yalitza Aparicio) serves as the familial heart and brings a face and life to “the help” usually shoved into the background of most stories. Roma is a story that resonates beyond class, or at least it should. It’s timely and yet timeless. It’s superb filmmaking.

Anne Brodie: Alfonso Cuarón’s intense and personal Roma is a marvel, one of those rare, life-changing, breathtaking masterpieces that challenge one’s worldview, pays attention to the minutiae of our lives as well as the big events, and bathes us in compassion and love. Read full review.

Cate Marquis
Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece ROMA is the director’s love letter to the his nanny and a remembrance of his childhood in 1970s Mexico City. Shot in a gorgeous black-and-white photography with an affecting realist style, the moving, hypnotic drama focuses on a young indigenous woman named Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) who works as maid and nanny to a middle-class family in the Roma neighborhood. Cuaron focuses on ordinary, everyday moments in this family’s and woman’s life, yet sets the story against the backdrop of social upheaval of the time. Under the gaze of Cuaron’s camera, personal experiences take on an epic grandeur, one that grips the audience in intense feeling. Vibrantly visual, ROMA is simply a remarkable film whose beauty and power exceed the ability of words to describe. Read full review


Title: Roma

Directors: Alfonso Cuaron

Release Date: November 21, 2018

Running Time: 135 minutes

Language: Spanish with English subtitles

Screenwriter: Alfonso Cuaron

Distribution Company: Netflix



AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Roma won five 2018 EDA Awards: Best Film and Best non-English Language Film, and Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Editing for Cuaron.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).