Dec 18, 2018
Welcome back for the second of two limited theater run Netflix Originals, which has been receiving a great deal of buzz and a few Golden Globe nominations. If you haven’t yet, go back to our timeline and search for #GoldenGlobes2019 to see our reviews for nominated films. We’re working out our watch list for the others, but if you think we should review something first, let us know at onemoviepunch.com or reach out over social media.
Today’s movie is “Roma” (2018), the Netflix Original Mexican drama written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker for a middle-class family in the Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. Set during the 1970s, the film draws heavily on Cuarón’s own experiences growing up in a time of social and political turmoil. The film has been nominated for three Golden Globe awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film.
The first Alfonso Cuarón film I ever saw was 1998’s “Great Expectations”, as a fan of the original work of Dickens. The film was clearly trying to ride the success of 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet”, the most recent classic modernization to find some success. Honestly, I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t know who the director was, either. Now, the first Cuarón film I saw where I knew it was him was “Y Tu Mamá También”, which I rented to watch with my wife, and was captivated watching a part of the world I knew relatively little about being brought to life so lovingly, and so incredibly well. I would argue Cuarón is at his best when he is able to both write and direct, or at least have substantial input on the script, to help align everything towards a unified vision. His films have also had enough success that he can create the films that he wants to create, and now spend a little more scratch to make them happen. If anyone else had come forward to propose a nostalgic look back at 1970s Mexico City, they would have been turned away. But this is Alfonso Cuarón, and if anyone can make that film not just good, but exceptional, it is him. And he did.
Nostalgia is a funny feeling, an emotional shortcut to the strong attachments made during our formative years. When we’re young, nostalgia manifests as homesickness, a desire to return to that which we’re familiar, especially if we’ve left our hometowns for other locations. When we’re older, after you’ve learned Tom Wolfe was right about never being able to go home again, it develops into an incurable longing for certain aspects of the past. “Roma” is a work of reflective nostalgia, a deep-dive into an eventful time around Mexico City, including a massive earthquake and the Corpus Christi massacre, as told directly through the story of Cleo, and indirectly through the background story of her host family. Everything is woven together into a moving tapestry, a feeling accentuated by Cuarón’s use of slow panning long takes, sometimes involving one or two people, sometimes involving large gatherings. It’s so refreshing in a film industry addicted to jump cuts. Every scene embraces one or two key emotions, and is able to breathe. No scene overstays its welcome, and often contain hidden details in the backgrounds. Really exquisite film-making.
The cast is excellent and authentic, even when the story can seem absurd. The locations around Mexico City and in the countryside are well chosen, with great background effects that deliver a period-perfect experience. The black and white filter provides an extra layer of nostalgia, even as the story can also have deadly serious scenes that would have been taboo for film-making at the time. We can see Cuarón’s childhood nostalgia as exemplified by the children up against the very real social and economic challenges of the time. In fact, you can view the film through a number of different lenses, as I suspect film critics and scholars will be doing for a long time. From the beginning throwback opening credits scene to the patient ending credits, I was captivated, and already cannot wait to see what he does next.
“Roma” (2018) is a cinematic masterpiece, from one of the most talented writers and directors of our time. Alfonso Cuarón weaves a moving tapestry of nostalgia, creating a complex story capturing multiple aspects of Mexico City in the early 1970s. Fans of Alfonso Cuarón, or fans of excellent film-making, should definitely check out this film. We’ll see it at this year’s Oscars for sure.
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
Metacritic: 96 (METACRITIC MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 10/10
“Roma” (2018) is rated R and is currently streaming on Netflix and playing in selected theaters.