Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma May be Small, But Every Moment Feels Grand: TIFF Review

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This one’s been sitting in my mind for quite a lengthy period of time – perhaps it’s only going to sit there for all I know. But that’s one thing I’ve always loved about a film director like Alfonso Cuarón, because in those long shots we only see life moving the way it is in Roma, yet another impressive effort only continuing a stream of success for the Mexican filmmaker. But of course there’s a lot of patience coming along the way with waiting for a new film by Cuarón, with this being his first film since his Oscar-winning Gravity but it also marks the first time in which he has made a film in his native Mexico since Y Tu Mamá También, with him returning to small-scale filmmaking. But even if that was the case that Cuarón presents with Roma, there’s so much to be admired in this passion project for the Mexican filmmaker – you already feel his personal touches all over this film. That’s what already makes Roma so special, because you feel how special this story is to Alfonso Cuarón.

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Set in Mexico during the 1970’s, Roma tells the story of a middle class family that consists of mother and father Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), matriarch Teresa (Verónica García), and three children and their two housemaids Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy García). In the words of Alfonso Cuarón, this is a semi-autobiographical tale about Cuarón’s own childhood in Mexico, but as we see his focus directed towards the women of the house, we see a certain willingness to look at his own life even through another set of eyes, and in that sense it also feels more loving to the many people that have helped define Cuarón to become the sort of person that he is. In the film’s own simplicity you find yourself a part of this family, a part of the scene, and in the most inviting manner what Roma opens your eyes to something so beautiful in what only seems to be ordinary life.

From watching Roma, I could never help myself but feel so overwhelmed by Cuarón’s attention to detail when it comes to showing ordinary life on the screen – making every interaction between member feel so authentic, like the best qualities of the films of Yasujiro Ozu. But even if the story feels so simple, what Cuarón makes of this, not simply as the director of the film but also as the writer, photographer, and editor, is something so grand. You already feel every bit of the film’s scope growing into something much bigger, because you still feel the chaos of this world as it elapses over these characters. And not only does the black-and-white cinematography look so beautiful, it already reinforces the idea that you’re watching everything play back as a collection of memories from Cuarón’s own childhood, adding another layer to the film’s emotional depth and all the more awe within the moment.

But in order to stick true to memories that come to define the sort of person you have have been led to become over time, Cuarón never holds back on the sadness and happiness that made his memories of living in Mexico during that time exactly what they were. Within that moment, Cuarón also allows his empathy to grow as we see everything from Cleo’s perspective. But in watching Cleo’s own story unfold all the more, I also find myself wondering more about the people that have helped me throughout my own childhood, no matter how difficult I have also made it for them. Sometimes I wish to have known better, because I only ever really saw my own side of that story rather than what everything was like through their own eyes. In Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo, I saw her again. And in that moment, I wish I was able to give a better “thank you” for all the hard work to her, like I did my mother and my grandmother.

I can’t help but feel like when Cuarón omits music and often films at distance, you find yourself seeing more than just the family in what already is a story of a personal journey for him. You see how the world revolves around these people, but at the same time everything from the background doesn’t simply feel like the background. It’s an oddly meditative feeling that the film places you within, because after walking out of the theater, I suddenly found myself looking back at my own world so much differently. All the catharsis just felt like it was something that I’ve experienced once again, and I don’t know if I can really ever find myself at peace again – no matter how much we try to escape that in a false sense of happiness.

There’s a whole lot more about Roma that I want to talk about because as I sat there watching Cuarón recollecting the memories of his own childhood I found myself reliving memories of my own past once again. But if there’s anything that a director like Alfonso Cuarón can show us, he can make moments that seem so small in scale feel like they’re so much larger, because that’s what we know he’s lived through – and even brings you back to. In the moments since I saw the film I could never allow any of it to escape me, for I was only struggling to find the words to say in order to make a thank you note that had ever felt every bit as meaningful as I know this film did. But to Alfonso Cuarón, there’s one “thank you” that I wish to send his way, for not only am I thankful that this film exists, I’m incredibly thankful to have found one means of achieving that peace I’ve long sought out of my life at this very moment. And to everyone reading this, I urge you to see this on a screen as large as you can, because it’s more than worth every bit of your time.


Watch the trailer here.

Images via TIFF and Netflix.


Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis
Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Verónica García, Fernando Grediaga, Nancy García
Release Date: December 14, 2018 (Netflix)
Running Time: 135 minutes

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