Alfonso Cuarón’s 2018 drama is set across 1970 and 1971 in Colonia Roma, a neighbourhood in Mexico City. Amidst the backdrop of the Mexican Dirty War (1964-1982), Cuarón’s film focuses on the story of Cleo, a live in maid for a middle class family – Dr Antonio, his wife Sofia, Sofia’s mother (Teresa), the couple’s four children and last but not least – the family dog. Cleo shares domestic duties in the household with Adela and across the course of a year we witness how things change for both Cleo and for the family she works so dutifully for.
Roma is carefully paced, often ponderous at times, with dialogue sometimes absent allowing us to take in the moments on our own terms. While Spanish is the primary language spoken, Cleo and Adela speak to one another in Mixtec whenever they are alone, emphasising the gulf and isolation that exists between them and their employers. They are well treated but at the same time they know their place in the hierarchy and value the work they have. While Cleo is the focal point of Roma, Cuarón also offers us a family who are seemingly happy but there is a fragility there and the upheaval that is spiralling out of control in Mexico is threatening to filter down into domestic circles, not least for this family.
Roma was nominated for 10 Oscars and received widespread acclaim upon release. Very much a labour of love, Cuarón wrote, directed and was cinematographer for the film, opting to tell Cleo’s story in black and white and the spectacle throughout is beautiful down to the minutest detail. Special mention goes to Marina de Tavira who is excellent as Sofia; a beautiful and devoted wife and mother whose own story is an emotional rollercoaster. The biggest praise though has to be reserved for Yalitza Aparicio whose performance as Cleo is superb, even more impressive given that this was her debut role. Under Aparicio, Cleo is a strong, timid young woman, a hard worker but innocent in a dark and violent world. Aparicio conveys so much emotion without words and was more than worthy of her Oscar nomination, as was de Tavira.
Verdict: Gorgeously filmed, delicately paced and well-acted, Roma is worth the praise it enjoyed upon release.