Easily the best movie Netflix has made
A movie like Roma is rare - something that's intimate yet also grand.
It's also easily the best original movie Netflix has released on its platform - while the likes The Meyerowitz Stories and Mudbound have been great films, a masterpiece like Roma is in a different league. In fact, it's in its own league.
The semi-autobiographical movie based on Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron's (Gravity, Children of Men) childhood is streaming on Netflix now.
It is also currently in limited release in cinemas around the country for another week. If you can, watch it on the big screen because it is a stunning visual experience enhanced by a theatre showing.
Set in the early 1970s in Mexico City (the title Roma refers to the neighbourhood in Mexico City), Roma is the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid working for an upper-middle-class family - mum Sofia (Marina de Tavira), dad Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), grandma, four children and another maid, Adela (Nancy Garcia).
Cleo is set apart from the family not just by class but also by the fact she is an indigenous rural Mexican woman (in contrast to the family's "white" Spanish heritage), speaking both Spanish and Mixtec.
She tends to the family, cleaning after them, mopping the floors, picking up after a dog that definitely poos too much and responding to their whims. She lives among them but she's not one of them, moving around with little presence.
But she's also like a de facto parent, to the point that she has a different wake-up ritual for each child.
Roma takes place over roughly a year, a time of dramatic change for the family and for Cleo.
The character of Cleo was based on Cuaron's real-life nanny from his childhood, a now 74-year-old woman named Libo Rodriguez. Cuaron plumbed her memories for the script and it's clear this whole film is a tender and loving tribute to the role she's played in his life.
Cleo is a fully formed character with a rich inner life and Aparicio, who's never acted before, gives an incredibly moving performance, infused with empathy and quiet dignity.
But Roma is not a rose-coloured glasses nostalgic longing for a "better time". Cuaron seeds throughout the film references to the social turmoil of the era - of land disputes and violent police crackdowns against student protesters.
It deftly ties the wider turbulence to the anxieties and changes within the lives of the family and Cleo.
Shot in crisp black-and-white, Roma is the first film on which Cuaron has also served as cinematographer, with his usual collaborator, triple-consecutive Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, unavailable due to scheduling.
The result is astonishing, a rich, gorgeous-to-look-at film, whether it's a shot of the driveway, the streets of Mexico City, a bushfire at night or the sparseness of the beach.
Cuaron is a master at filling his compositions with incredible detail - pay attention to the background of scenes because he often transitions them into the foreground.
In an early scene, Cleo is on the rooftop, handwashing the laundry when two of the kids come up. When she lies down on a slab with one of the kids, the camera pulls back, exposing a cadre of maids on neighbouring rooftops, all handwashing the laundry while dogs bark alongside them.
It's a stunning revelation, and in those 20 seconds, it gives you a vivid picture of the social structures of this time and place - if you manage to catch your breath after being confronted by the sheer beauty of the mise-en-scene.
All of Cuaron's scenes have texture and depth, shot on digital Alexa65 - which is why you should try and see it in a cinema - because every frame is a marvel to behold.
There's a beautiful naturalism to Roma, sometimes Cuaron sets the camera in a room, unobtrusively, while characters walk in and out of frame - it makes you feel as part of the moment as those on screen.
Roma is a magnificent piece of cinema, a jawdropping, rewarding film that is at times tragic and at times joyful. It emotionally connects on several levels, across different life experiences, and it won't fail to dig its way into your subconsciousness.
One of the best films of the year.
Roma is available to stream on Netflix now. It's also playing in limited release in cinemas.
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