Soapy water rushes over a tiled floor as the opening titles reveal themselves at the beginning of "Roma." A new Netflix original film that feels so beyond their input thus far that it almost feels like a prank. The soapy water is created by Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) a housemaid for a wealthy Mexican family during the early 1970's. She works closely with Adela (Nancy Garcia). The family Cleo and Adela work for consists of Sofia (Marina de Tavira), Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia's mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia). Antonio and Sofia also have four children and a family dog who seems to shit everywhere. Cleo and Adela do much for Sofia and Antonio's family, but they also have lives outside of work. No matter, the children seem to love Cleo very much and Cleo in particular is treated almost as a member of the family.
"Roma" weaves from character to character without really created a framework or structure. I've read other critics say that the movie feels like you are stepping into someone else's head and viewing their memories. Honestly, as much as I hate to directly quote others, there is really no other way to discuss or even describe "Roma." There isn't any manufactured music to fit a scene in "Roma. "There are no quick sound effects to jerk out an emotion from the viewer. Instead you hear the sound of wind, you hear the sounds of the city, whatever is going on outside. Perhaps you hear a radio turned on in a room nearby. Perhaps you hear a dog barking a few blocks away or some water leak coming from somewhere. There have been so many movies made where directors, actors and writers try to imitate life without much overt storytelling, creating "slice of life movies." Even those movies feel like they came out of a fictional kit at times. "Roma" is the first movie I can think of where it felt like a director simply pointed a camera at a family for weeks and weeks and the movie he made from cut and pasted from the footage he gathered. Yet, there is still engaging stories being told, and director Alfonso Cuaron makes it all look effortless.
You know Alfonso Cuaron whether you realize it or not. He maybe a filmmaker who hails from Mexico, but he's had much success here in America. Remember "Gravity" from 2013, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney? Where Cuaron created a breath-taking look into outer space and used every techno tool to his disposal to create something that felt original? That's Cuaron. Remember "Children of Men" from 2006? The futuristic story of men not being able to produce sperm and women now cannot make babies? And how the first baby born in decades sets off a series of unfortunate political events? That's Cuaron. Remember "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," an entry in the series that is still hailed as one of the all-time best? That's Cuaron. Its odd, because it feels like Cuaron has been working for years and years. But altogether, he's only directed eight films and done some documentary and television work. The thing is, every time he sets out to make a movie, he is constantly improving his voice, constantly raising the bar, and seemingly constantly pushing himself as an artist. "Roma" is not only directed, written, produced and edited by Cuaron, but he also is responsible for the lush cinematography you see. Not bad, because this is the most beautiful recent black-and-white movie in a long time.
"Roma" may seem like random scenes at first glance, but its anything but. It just seems like the plot and various subplots seem to converge all at once. Antonio is a successful businessman, responsible for work that keeps him away from home. This beings to strain his relationship with his family and has huge repercussions later. Cleo has a boyfriend named Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) a wild martial arts enthusiast. When Cleo finds out she's pregnant, she is poised to learn that this fun kid has no desire to be a father and how confrontation later changes everything for both of them forever. Cuaron wisely yet carefully takes jabs at the American class system and how nothing will change for the better if nobody actually tries to make anything better. Its amazing how Cuaron takes a sleight-of-hand approach, gently pushing his opinion on matters without every coming close to going full political in his discussions. And again, the movie is equally amazing because it never feels like its about anything, yet its about many things. The movie never stops playing like a bunch of memories, never takes you by the hand to remind you that you're watching a movie. No melodrama, no cheap thrills. Its all realistic drama from start to finish.
Each actor in the film is a discovery. But easily the best of the bunch is Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo. I know it doesn't happen very often, but this non-American actress needs to be nominated come Oscar time. She is a walking piece of poetry in this movie. And there is no ounce of nuisance or entitlement to her work. To say she is a natural is almost an insult to anybody who has ever used the phrase. Its funny, because Aparicio doesn't refer to herself as an actress, so I am honestly not sure you'll ever see her in anything again. It sounds like her casting was almost a fluke and Cuaron has stated that "Roma" took a long time to cast. I can understand too. When you are making a movie this grounded, each actor, from the adults to the children to the extras, have to be method acting. Its a precious juggling act that I can't imagine even trying. The entire cast deserves kudos for the impeccable work on display here, all beyond description.
Words fail me to describe this film any further. I don't know how Netflix got their mits on something this special, but it goes beyond anything they have ever released. I think 2018 will finally be their year for the Oscars, because if the Academy ignores "Roma," it truly is a disservice to cinema. The film is motion poetry, unlike anything I have had the pleasure to see. I have it on in the background as I write these words to you tonight and I am still taken aback how certain things were pulled off. This is what filmmaking is all about telling a story that makes us feel we share the moment along with the characters. I can't believe this exists, and if you take the time, neither will you.
FINAL GRADE: A+