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Alfonso Cuarón tells a deeply personal story with absolute precision in “Roma”

You rarely see such an intimate tale painted on such a large canvas. In telling a story based on his own youth, filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has made an epic movie about the women in his life. If that sounds a bit unusual, once you see the movie, it all makes sense. This is a flick that’s a tribute to these women, told in a specific yet universal way. Ever since the fall film festival circuit began, it has been getting almost exclusively raves. I’m here to continue that goos word of mouth. This is one of the best foreign works of the year, and just quality cinema in general. Netflix will be streaming this one next month, but it’ll be doing a limited run in theaters starting this Wednesday. It deserves to be seen on the big screen too.

The film is a period piece drama, set in the early 1970’s. Taking place in a Mexico City town known as Roma, it follows a comfortable family during a tumultuous year in their lives. Sra. Sofía (Marina de Tavira) is the head of the household, but our focus is mostly on their housekeeper/nanny Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). She has a bond with the whole family, especially the children, but is also leading her own evolving life. Over the course of the year, she’ll discover things about the family, about herself, become pregnant, and find herself in the center of a political uprising. It’s all told in what feels like a series of moments. No one plot element comes forward, but rather plays like memories. Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, and handles the cinematography himself. Supporting players include Diego Cortina Autrey, Andy Cortés, Daniela Demesa, Nancy García García, Verónica García, Marco Graf, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, José Manuel Guerrero Mendoza, Carlos Peralta, Latin Lover, and more.

To be fair, I’m not nearly as in love with the movie as most. The pacing is very measured, too many scenes feel like nothing happens, and it takes quite a while to really rope you in. At the same time, it’s impossible to deny its craftsmanship and effectiveness. Not working with DP, Cuarón still puts out some amazing visuals, handling the cinematography himself, as mentioned above. Aparicio is captivating to watch, while the scope of it all washes over you by the time it’s all over. The first act is solid, the second act is a bit rough, and the third act almost assuredly will win you over. Anyone who loves Cuarón will be at least curious about this project. More likely, they’ll be head over heals for it. Even if I wasn’t, I’m in the minority here, and still think it’s pretty great.

Roma is going to be a big time Oscar player, mark my words. Netflix should see their biggest success, awards wise, with this one, including their first citation in the big category. Look for campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Cuarón), Best Actress (for Aparicio), Best Supporting Actress (for de Tavira), Best Original Screenplay (also for Cuarón), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography (for Cuarón as well), and Best Film Editing. Nominations in Picture, Director for Cuarón, Original Screenplay for Cuarón, and Cinematography for Cuarón seem likely. It goes with out saying, Cuarón is going to have a big hug from the Academy coming his way soon.

If you can see Roma in a theater, please do. The cinematography, the scope of it all, and the feel all demand a theatrical experience. Frankly, it won’t play as well at home. The periodic antsy feeling I struggled with would have been almost unbearable that way. This is a three and a half star rating, but in theaters. At home, streaming, it would be just three stars. Maybe that’s weird, but that’s just how I feel. Regardless, it’s going to be a huge Academy Award player, so make sure you find time for it, one way or the other. You won’t regret it…

Be sure to check out Roma, in select theaters tomorrow, before it hits Netflix on December 14th!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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