Saturday, January 05, 2019
Roma (2018 film)
Written, directed, shot, and co-edited by Alfonso Cuaron, Roma is the story of two housekeepers working for a middle-class family in early 1970s Mexico as they help a mother of four children whose husband has gone away for business. The film is a semi-biographical story of Cuaron’s life at a time when Mexico was going through social and political changes as a family cope with uncertainty prompting two housekeepers to get things going. Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Carlos Peralta, Diego Cortina Autrey, and Fernando Grediaga. Roma is a ravishing and evocative film from Alfonso Cuaron.
Set from September of 1970 to the summer of 1971 during a tumultuous period of social and political changes in Mexico, the film revolves the life of a middle-class family told from the eyes of a housekeeper who is helping out in keeping the house clean and watch over the four children. It’s a film that play into the life of a family that seems to have it all but it would start to unravel when the family patriarch leaves for a medical conference in Quebec for a few weeks only to suddenly never return. Alfonso Cuaron’s screenplay has a straightforward narrative as it follows the life of one of the two family maids in Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) as she watches over this family during a school year for these four kids as well as tending to the house that often include lots of dog shit in the garage. While Cleo also have time for an active personal life as she’s in a relationship with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero).
Things would start to get complicated not just for herself but also for her employer Sofia (Marina de Tavira) whose husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) hasn’t returned home. Cuaron definitely lets the audience be aware that Sofia and Antonio’s relationship early in the film is strained but the former is trying to hide all of that from her children who are asking questions. Amidst this personal family drama that is around Cleo as well as her own issues, Cuaron’s script also play into some of the events that is happening around them where a New Year’s Eve party is disrupted by arson relating to a land dispute as well as student protests that include a small recreation of the Corpus Christi Massacre of June 10, 1971. It would lead to these moments for both Sofia and Cleo who are both misused and mistreated by the men in their lives as they also watch out for the children who are starting to ask questions about their father.
Cuaron’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the images and compositions he creates as it is shot on location in Mexico with much of it shot on location at the Colonia Roma section of Mexico City. Serving as the film’s cinematographer, Cuaron shoots the film in a black-and-white film format as it add to this element of nostalgia to the period of the times as well as play into a period that was lively but also chaotic. Since the film revolves around a middle class family as many of the locations that Cuaron shoots is in and around the city. He uses a lot of wide and medium shots to get a scope of not just the house from the inside but also the locations out of the house. There are also a lot of long takes that has Cuaron not just get a look of the usual activities that occur daily at the house in what Cleo does but also the activities of Sofia and the children with another housekeeper in Adela (Nancy Garcia) helping out. Even as the simple medium static shot of a car trying to get into the garage as there’s so much attention to detail that include dog shit on the floor with close-ups of a tire driving over a piece of dog shit.
With the aid of co-editor Adam Gough in the editing of the film as much of it is straightforward, Cuaron would allow the shots to linger that include a gorgeous scene at the New Year’s Eve party where the people are trying to put out a fire at the forest. It has this man wearing a costume singing a song to count down the New Year as it play into this sense of hope that this man is wishing for although things would get worse into the coming months. Cuaron’s direction manages to get a lot of attention to detail as it play into the compositions into the action that is happening in the foreground as well as what is happening in the background. Notably a sequence during the Corpus Christi Massacre where the Los Halcones paramilitary group emerge and there is this awful aftermath of a woman clutching a young dead man’s body asking for help while Cleo, Sofia’s mother Teresa (Veronica Garcia), and a family driver leaving the building in the background.
Cuaron’s approach to the drama is low-key as it adds to an air of realism into the film with the kids being naturalistic in their activities and enthusiasm. Particularly in the scenes set in the beach during its third act which would play into revelations the kids had to face as it relates to their father. Yet, the scenes on the beach also play more into not just loss but also what Sofia and Cleo have to endure for themselves having both been spurned by the men in their lives. Overall, Cuaron crafts a touching and enchanting film about the life of a middle-class family from the eyes of its housekeeper.
Production designer Eugenio Caballero, with set decorator Barbara Enriquez plus art directors Carlos Benassini and Oscar Tello, does excellent work with the look of the home that Sofia and her family live in as well as the rooms that Cleo and Adela live in. Costume designer Anna Terrazas does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with some of the posh clothing that Sofia and some of her rich friends live in. Makeup designer Antonio Garfias does nice work with some of the makeup as it include the look of a famed figure teaching a group of young men during a seminar. Special effects supervisor Alex Vaszquez, with visual effects supervisors Dave Griffiths and Sheldon Stopsack, does brilliant work with some of the film’s visual dressing in a few exterior scenes as well as creating some invisible cuts in some long takes.
Sound designers Craig Berkey and Sergio Diaz do amazing work with the sound as it add to the immense atmosphere of the home along with sound of planes flying by from afar as well as sounds that occur in and out of the house on a typical day as it is one of the film’s highlights. Music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein creates a superb soundtrack of music that is played on location as it features many of the songs that were being played in Mexico at the time from artists/acts like Leo Dan, Rocio Durcal, Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel, Los Pasteles Verdes, Rigo Tovar, Javier Solis, Jeff Christie, Perez Prado Orchestra, Yvonne Elliman, Daniel Santos, Los Terricolas, Los Pulpos, Roger Whittaker, Carmela & Rafael, Ray Coniff, Luis Perez Meza, and many others.
The casting by Luis Rosales is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Jose Manuel Guerrero Mendoza as Adela’s lover Ramon, famed Mexican professional wrestler Latin Lover as a famed martial arts professor in Professor Zovek, Zarela Lizbeth Chinolla Arellano as Cleo’s doctor, Kjartan Halvorsen as a man wearing a costume at the New Year’s Eve party, Enoc Leano as a politician, Jorge Antonio Guerrero as Cleo’s boyfriend in Fermin whose devotion to martial arts would eventually disconnects him from Cleo, and Fernando Grediaga as Sofia’s husband Antonio as a doctor who leaves for a conference in Quebec to suddenly not return raising questions about his marriage to Sofia as well as his activities outside of the family.
Veronica Garcia and Nancy Garcia are fantastic in their respective roles as Sofia’s mother Teresa and the housekeeper Adela as two women who help run the house with the former trying to keep an eye on the children while the latter helps clean the house as well as be Cleo’s friend. The performances of Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, and Carlos Peralta in their respective roles as Sofia/Antonio’s children in Pepe, Sofi, Tono, and Paco are excellent as these four kids who are full of energy and innocence as they deal with their father’s absence while trying to figure out what is going on as they lean towards Cleo for comfort. Marina de Tavira is brilliant as Sofia as the family matriarch who is dealing with her strained marriage and the chaos it would follow prompting her to try and figure out what to do next as well as not reveal anything to her children. Finally, there’s Yalitza Aparicio in an incredible performance as Cleo as a housekeeper who is trying to be this stable force for the family as well as caring for the children and do the activities while coping with her pregnancy and the chaos that is surrounding the family and Mexico itself.
Roma is a magnificent film from Alfonso Cuaron. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, intoxicating visuals, a simple yet touching story, and its approach to nostalgia. The film is a rapturous portrait about the life of a family told from one of its maids who sees a family struggle with not just personal issues but also the social and political changes around them while that character also goes through struggles of her own in a world that is often defined and driven by men. In the end, Roma is an outstanding film from Alfonso Cuaron.
Alfonso Cuaron Films: Solo con Tu Pareja - A Little Princess (1995 film) - Great Expectations (1998 film) - Y Tu Mama Tambien - Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Children of Men - Gravity (2013 film) - The Auteurs #11: Alfonso Cuaron
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