On the surface, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a film about the ordinary life of Cleo, a housekeeper in 1970’s Mexico City. But it is its mundane aspects that are its strengths.
The audience is transported to Mexico City through sound design. The film has the soundscape of a bustling world, full of street vendors yelling and children playing. The cinematography, courtesy of Alfonso Cuarón himself, is mesmerizing. Shot entirely in black and white, Roma is hypnotic with long shots that sweep through the scene and follow the same pace as its actors. Through this technique, Cuarón has transformed his setting into a character itself. Shots linger and allow the viewer to reflect on what they have viewed during the film, an experience not felt often in modern films, which have taken to the trend of sporadic editing and short shots. The beginning of the film opens with a shot of a tiled floor being washed, the soapy water flowing back and forth like a wave.
The highlight of the film is the protagonist, Cleo, and Yalitza Aparicio’s honest portrayal of a woman trying to survive in 1970’s Mexico with her own struggles and dreams. The film uses Aparicio’s character to look into the lives of the family she cares for, giving the viewer a feeling of voyeurism. As Cleo becomes the link to this family, she captures the audience, bringing us along for the journey. Through Cleo, we watch her own heartbreak, as well as the ending of her employer Sofia’s, played by Marina de Tavira, marriage.
We learn an essential truth of the film as Sofia explains, “We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone,” before they embrace each other. Roma becomes a film about combating the loneliness around you with those you love.