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Roma review - Alfonso Cuarón's latest is a powerful black-and-white drama


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One of the year's best-reviewed films comes courtesy of one of the world's greatest living directors - Alfonso Cuarón himself. A powerful, semi-autobiographical black-and-white drama that chronicles the life of a live-in housekeeper in 1970's Mexico city. 

Roma is passion project if ever there was one. Cuarón not only wrote and directed the movie - he produced, edited and even photographed it. Based on his own upbringing and starring a cast of largely unknown actors, it is unquestionably a labour of love.

Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix

The cinematography is stunning at just about every turn. Cuarón takes something as simple and seemingly dull as a man very slowly and meticulously parking his car and turns it into a captivating display of visual poetry. 

The lives of these characters are quietly, even deceptively absorbing. You don't realize how invested you've become in their struggles until a gut-wrenching sequence near the movie's end.

Roma's protagonist is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family in the early 1970's Mexico City. As she cooks, cleans and takes care of the family's children, Cleo is our window into these people's lives. We see the strain in the marriage, bubbling under the surface until it reaches a boiling point. 

Cleo herself has her own troubles. A romantic relationship ends abruptly when she discovers she is pregnant and her boyfriend abandons her, without so as much as saying goodbye. It's another one of the movie's visually stunning highlights, a tragic date at a movie theatre that ends with Cleo alone in a crowd. 

The movie I found myself comparing Roma to the most in my mind was The Florida Project. On the surface, they have little in common - yet they both have a way of making what might otherwise seem incidental or random feel personal and specific. Portraits of lives unfolding over an extended period of time.

Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Roma's deliberate pacing makes it feel much longer than it is actually is. For the most part, that works in its favour - but there are certainly moments where it tentatively crosses the line into self-indulgence and pretentiousness.

Some of New Year's celebration scenes are particularly guilty of this. A man stares into the distance and sings as the forest around him burns. It's such a weirdly, overbearingly solemn moment that it flips the script on itself and practically becomes self-parody. 

Is it better to see Roma in a theatre as opposed to watching it at home on Netflix? The real benefit of the cinema experience isn't a large screen, but the sound. I've always found it difficult to talk about sound on any level, and Roma is no exception - all I can say is that it plays a fundamental part in turning the city into a living, breathing world. 

The sound of everyday life continues throughout the credits and I found myself sticking around and soaking in the ambience. If you do decide to watch it at home, I'd recommend trying to shut off as much of the rest of the world as possible. 

I don't know if I'll ever revisit Roma, but I do know that it left a lasting impression. It's not my favourite of Cuarón's films, but it's undoubtedly a great addition to an already staggeringly impressive filmography. 

Roma is in select cinemas now, and available to stream on Netflix from Friday 14th December. 

Lead image credit: Courtesy of Netflix

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