Country: Mexico, USA
Language: Spanish, English, Norwegian
Director, Writer, Cinematographer: Alfonso Cuarón
Marina de Tavira
Diego Cortina Autrey
Jorge Antonio Guerrero
José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza
Zarela Lizbeth Chinolla Arellano
The dust has officially settled, the Golden Lion winner in Venice, Cuarón’s autobiographical ode to his childhood and fatherland is the also-ran contending for Oscar’s top honor, but ROMA, still chalked up 3 awards, including a second BEST DIRECTOR honor for Cuarón, and a first win in BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE for Mexico, is anything but an Oscar loser, while the Academy is so fearful of their disconnection with general audience and being progressive in tackling stigmas (the Netflix impediment, or a foreign language movie), their safe-bet option for GREEN BOOK is disappointing, but not entirely surprising, every time, we hope for the best, an elite selection of highest artistic achievements, but the result, more often than not, go against one’s best judgement, because there is always safety in numbers…
Back to Cuarón’s lauded monochromatic magnum opus, it is exceptionally inspiring and refreshing to have an unwonted heroine as our protagonist, Cleo Gutiérrez (Aparicio), a young maid of indigenous extraction, inspired by the nanny who raises him. The household is constituted by an often absent father-husband Antonio (Grediaga), his wife Sofía (de Tavira), their four young children and a Sofía’s mother Teresa (V. García), two maids, Cleo and Adela (N. García), living in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the early 70s.
Roughly covering one year’s time and ingeniously concatenating Cleo’s domestic remit (the ambivalent dynamism between the maid and her middle-class employers is honed up with brilliant patience and veracity), private lives with the shifting sands of a larger social milieu (the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971 is a key moment that alters Cleo’s destiny forever), ROMA strikingly sustains an objective viewpoint of the occurrences with its divine wide-angle shots, elegant panning faux-long takes (yes Cuarón also takes the DP onus for the first time), that first and foremost point up its mesmeric compositions of space and time. Yet, step by step, ugly truth seeps through the surface of normalcy, both in Cleo and the household’s lives, and both have women (and young children) at the receiving ends of men’s cruelty and irresponsibility, during a seaside holiday, the two torrents converge poignantly under a precarious circumstance and coalesce into a closer bond between Cleo and the family closer, after that life goes on, the curtain closes down with a final static shot echoes the opening one, equally sublime.
First-time actress Yalitza Aparicio has a daunting job to carry on the narrative on her own shoulders, and she does it with a quiet strength that Cleo’s dignity and heartbreak can bank on, her co-star, both Oscar-nominated, Marina de Tavira, the only professional actress in the fold, tasked with a more temperamental character, is luminous in a very different way, Sofía has only an episodic presence, but through which Marina maps out a distinct character arc that Sofía’s own readjustment, wisdom and empathy that can break the yawning class strata, and rewardingly finds a universal connection in tandem with Cleo’s unaffected devotion to her employer and the care to the impressionable kids, both women are the hands that rocks the cradle.
Cuarón’s humanistic aesthetics are fully and superbly developed by the sharp-looking imagery teeming with tacit metaphors (ill-assorted automobile and the narrow garage, the jacket left behind, a position of poise acquired by Cleo, among others) and engrossing veracity (the baby delivery sequence in the hospital, and the chilling struggling with the sea are two absolute highlights), ROMA has no rival among Oscar’s nomination list, sadly one has to inure to relive the same contretemps when CRASH usurps BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for the top honor in 2006, when Oscar becomes such a curate’s egg, its credentials are doomed to wane among film lovers.
referential entries: Cuarón’s Y TU MAMÁ YAMBIÉN (2001, 7.8/10), CHILDEN OF MEN (2006, 9.3/10); Alonso Riuzpalacios’ GÜEROS (2014, 6.1/10).