Imagine going to your favourite photographer’s exhibition and all the pictures come to life – that’s pretty much what watching Roma feels like.
Roma is set in the early 1970s following a young domestic worker living in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma, Mexico City.
Oscar-winner director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) takes us on a deeply personal journey in an autobiographical ode to his childhood, and to the women who reared him.
“Eighty to ninety percent of the scenes represented in the film are scenes taken out of my memory,” Cuarón said during a Directors Guild of America interview, “sometimes directly, sometimes a bit more obliquely.”
Just as the memories are real, so are the characters, including Cleo, played to perfection by Yalitza Aparicio, who had no previous acting experience. Cleo is a fictionalised version of the Cuarón family’s live-in-maid Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez.
Cuarón embarked on a painstaking search through countless villages in Mexico auditioning thousands of women for the role. When he met Aparicio, who is from the same small town as Libo, his search was over.
The Corpus Christi Massacre
Cuarón draws on his childhood amidst political turmoil of the 1970s, most notably the devastating Corpus Christi massacre of 1971. Soldiers and police disguised as civilians opened fire on thousands of high school and university student demonstrators killing over 120 people.
In many movies being made right now men seem to be suffering from a form of toxic masculinity syndrome – a disorder associated with brutal, abusive behaviour, with tendencies to lie, cheat, and often drink too much, ultimately letting everyone and themselves down.
Roma serves as a testament to the women who raised Cuarón who are left to pick up the pieces after being betrayed by the men in their lives.
Along with directing the picture, Cuarón wrote the screenplay and also helmed the cinematography.
Due to a scheduling conflict Cuarón’s go-to guy, and three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked with him on almost every film he has made, was unavailable, leading Cuarón to step into the role himself.
This decision ended up being hugely beneficial to the creative process and the result is stunning.
There are plenty of high-impact parts throughout: a blazing forest fire; an earthquake; violent street riots; and an unsettling seaside scene.
But it’s the softer scenes that say so much. Cuarón has a talent of making the ordinary seem extraordinary: soapy water sloshing across a courtyard; a plane reflected in a puddle; laundry swaying on a clothesline.
These moments of magic seem like a dream – these memories of one of the greatest directors of our time.
There isn’t really a score as such, the soundtrack to Cuarón’s latest opus is made up of an occasional song drifting in and out of a radio or stereo, the rumble of city streets, cars vrooming, people babbling, waves crashing, fireworks, rifles, dogs… the sound design is instrumental to the experience allowing us to completely immerse ourselves into this world.
Academy Award contenders aren’t usually black-and-white, Mexican, subtitled movies with a relatively unknown cast and no soundtrack – yet Roma has been cleaning up on the road to the Oscars and has already won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, 2018.
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