Roma: Raw, Powerful and Unfettered Reality


The 2018 drama film “Roma” recently took home three Oscars and is also available on Netflix.

Before deciding what movie to review for this week, I watched 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” and “Roma,” as both excellent films were brought back to the Hamilton Movie Theater to celebrate their victory at the Oscars two weeks ago. My opinion on “Into the Spider-verse” is one that you have probably already heard: it’s amazing, jaw-dropping and one of the best superhero films to date. Those qualities are pretty characteristic of a good superhero film, so in an attempt to discuss a flick with a little more depth, let me tell you about “Roma.”

Why would I want to watch a film in black and white, spoken in a language I don’t understand? Although these qualities are different from the typical movies I review, they added so much to “Roma.”

“Roma” won three Oscars for directing, cinematography and best foreign language film (which were all well-deserved, I might add). Despite the accolades, I was wary when I entered the theater. Clearly, others felt similarly—two of the three other people in the theater left partway through. To fully appreciate this movie (or any movie in this style), you must be willing to keep an open mind and listen to what the artist is trying to say.

“Roma” follows a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid working for a family in 1970s Mexico City. The film’s title is the name of the neighborhood they live in. We are slowly introduced to Cleo’s life, her work, her employers (especially the mother, Sofia (Marina de Tavira)) and the political situation of the country. The film revels in a slow, languid pace and reflects the dull and menial life of servitude. Naturally, the film requires a little bit of patience. If you are willing to let the film speak for itself, it pays off, making each moment give life or intrigue to the increasingly complicated and expertly crafted story.

“Roma” is a drama in the real sense of the word, but with none of the melodrama that would diminish its impact on the viewer. There is a sense of the post-modernist style of filmmaking, one that masterfully juxtaposes that style with the pop-culture of the epoch it is portraying (there are at least three times when we are watching a movie or television within the movie, and it’s a stark contrast), and it almost invokes French new wave cinema. There is no music, no color—just pure acting and a camera. The cinematography is superb and shines marvelously on long one-take shots that bring forth a sense of uninterrupted unfolding tension. There are scenes that pass, and there are scenes that hit you like a brick. It is clear director Alfonso Cuarón is playing you like a fiddle. Even the acting of the children is so sharp and realistic that it’s hard to forget you’re watching a movie and not a documentary.

Ultimately, the film is centered on the dynamics between class, gender and ethnicity. It is raw, speaking deeply and poignantly about these issues as they pertain to that bygone time. “We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are alone,” Sofia tells Cleo as both grieve. The film ends bittersweetly, with Cleo admitting to something quite terrible that is also satisfying to the story. Everyone, including the viewer, gains a deeper understanding and appreciation from everyone about the world they live in as well as each other. And that is the mark of true art.

So, should you watch this? I believe that the experience of art is not always a pleasant one. There is no pleasure without pain, no joy without loss. What is so often lost in a drama is excellently captured here: we as an audience are brought closer to the emotions of the characters through some masterful film techniques. So yes, I believe that everyone should watch this, if at least to widen their eyes to see the bigger picture. A tougher sell than something like “If Beale Street Could Talk,” its story is so complete when viewed in its entirety that it’s hard to resist. If you’re interested in “Roma,” you could head over to the theater, but since it’s also available on Netflix, you have no excuse not to watch it.

Contact Peter Hager at [email protected].