Renowned Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity) is widely regarded as a man who makes films that display great technical prowess combined with a moving story as an emotional anchor. With Roma, his most personal film to date, once again this combination is at the very core of a real awards season contender.
Making a streaming giant slick and stylish
On its surface; Roma, a Spanish-language, black and white film about a year in the life of a middle-class Mexican family and their nanny in the early 1970s, it doesn’t seem to be to many peoples’ particular taste, but without a doubt this is a film that needs to be seen by everyone. Considering it’s a film backed by Netflix, it’s a welcome surprise they allowed for such an ambitious style of filmmaking and allowed Cuaron the creative control he needed to create a film of this stature that takes so many potential risks but delivers so much.
In what many could describe as a bold move, Cuaron opted to work as not only the writer and director of Roma but also its cinematographer, after frequent collaborator and 3 time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki had to drop out due to scheduling issues. The result of this is a gorgeous, sprawling black and white picture that effortlessly captures Mexico’s urban and rural beauty, whilst boldly depicting the eras political unrest without pulling any punches. From stunning, technically perfect set pieces to long takes and close-ups with the utmost precision, Cuaron has utilised his skills as a trained cinematographer to break so many rules of filmmaking to create arguably the year’s best
A hyperreal reflection of humanity
The key to making Roma such a personal film, outside of Cuaron basing it on his own experiences, was opting to use mainly non-actors to ground the film and reinforce it as a wholly human story. Undoubtedly the standout performance was the debut of Yalitza Aparicio as the family’s nanny, Cleo. As the focal point of the story, her character is taken on a heart-wrenching, tumultuous journey that contains one of the hardest to watch yet visually astounding sequences in recent cinema history, and it’s a testament to an astonishing debut performance that it would be inexcusable to leave her name out of the running this awards season.
Despite all the technical prowess on display, Roma never feels like a film that’s sole aim is to impress visually, but it comes across as an intimate story about family life that feels so personal to Cuaron but equally hugely relatable. The lack of a score, arguably Cuaron’s boldest stylistic choice, allows for all the noises of real life to help one connect on a deeper level with the film. The screams and panic of the riot scenes in the 2nd act particularly feel so realistic and immersive that the viewer gets caught up in the whirlwind of events that follow, eyes transfixed on the screen despite a slew of uncomfortable moments in quick succession.
The culmination of all these aforementioned elements make Roma not just one of the year’s best films, but highlight a groundbreaking year for Netflix where they have finally taken their content to another level. This beautiful, quietly astounding piece of cinema should be enjoyed by everyone who truly loves film, and it’s safe to say it is deservedly the front-runner to take home not just Best Director, but the prestigious Best Picture prize at next year’s Oscars.
Words by Elliott Jones