Roma ★★★★

Cuaron’s recent work has been a string of ambitious, grandiose sci-fi films that seemingly escalate in intensity. Roma finds him breaking from this trajectory to make an incredibly personal work that’s just as ambitious of an undertaking. Recreating 1970s Mexico City, Cuaron tells the story of Cleo, who serves as a housekeeper for an upper-middle class family. It’s apparent that the film is based on his childhood and the level of care he brings in visualizing the setting is breathtaking.

Working without his long-time DP Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron shot Roma himself and bathes his version of Mexico City in lush black-and-white photography. His camera slowly pans and drifts, ponderously surveying Cleo’s environment, often pensively remaining on a shot of a closed door or window. The film has many long takes, but Cuaron smartly saves the intricate ones for the most emotional sequences.

Yalitza Aparicio gives a stunning performance, especially considering she’s a non-professional actress. Cuaron didn’t allow anyone see the script before shooting (I’m not sure I believe there even was a script) and the entire film was shot sequentially which probably led to an evolution of the film during the shoot, as Cuaron and Aparicio developed the character.

I found the pacing to be uneven at times, but even considering some minor issues, Roma is a masterful film from one of the best current directors, and I’m eager to see it again.

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